Tag Archives: creativity

The Development of Creativity

23 Sep

creativityLast week we looked at the development of the important scribble phase in young children’s art work. Today we are going to look at the development of creativity and ask the question whether the scribble and head-foot men in our children’s art work have a meaning. Is it just play or is there a higher issue at stake here? The head-foot man grows from the random scribble and the growth in the young child’s spatial knowledge as well as the increasing control over large and small motor movements. This stage of development is as important to the overall development of children’s art as the scribble phase. At our school – the Regio Centurion School in Centurion, South Africa – we organise an annual art exhibition of our students’ art works. The school has a preschool (babies to kindergarten) and a primary school (Grade 1 to Grade 7). We exhibit everyone’s work, from the babies to the Grade 7 learners. This year’s art exhibition opened on 21 September.

Research that was done on the level of creativity in people, showed that preschool children have the highest level of creativity. This level of creativity starts to fall in the primary school and is very low amongst high school students. Creativity is not a genetic trait. Everyone has the potential to be highly creative. Creativity is not only about visual art and the performing arts. Creativity is about using skills and talents to identify problems and to solve those problems in a novel way. Truly creative people look at reality in a different way. Creativity is a dynamic state. By trying, failing and trying again, the creative process grows and develops exponentially.

How can we help our children and ourselves to become more creative? When we allow young learners to explore and discover without placing emphasis on the end product, we help them to grow in self-confidence and develop the ability to try again. I read somewhere that Edison said that before he discovered the light bulb he discovered a hundred ways in which it did not work! The process of exploring and discovering is always more important than the end product. Through being involved in the process of discovery,  you also discover your own abilities and develop your own skills. This is exactly what happens in the process of exploring and discovering art. If the scribbles, the upside-down head-foot man and the purple cows are not accepted, the self-confidence to develop and learn is undermined and the small, tender plant of creativity withers. Thinking differently, even if it is patently not possible, is an important aspect of a young child’s development. Our role is to accept, to ask questions and show interest.

Loris Malaguzzi of Reggio Emilia fame, believed that visual art plays a very important role in the development of general creativity. His view is supported by the creativity guru of our time, Sir Ken Robinson. Ken Robinson believes that the emphasis on academic subjects at the cost of visual arts and drama in schools undermines not only creative thought, but also the skills young people need to be functional, successful adults in the future. The future will be a place where creativity, problem-solving skills and the skill to communicate across cultural divides will make the difference between success and failure.

How can art in the preschool make a difference? Cultivating a sense of self, believing in yourself, looking at reality in a different way and accepting other people’s way of doing things are the skills we learn in a good preschool art programme.

Yes, though the scribble looks the same today as yesterday and the head-foot man is still lying on his back, remember that even Picasso started in this way and Chagall loved floating figures!


What makes us human?

24 May

In the NewScientist of 21 April 2012, there is a very interesting article on what makes us human and why we are different from most animals. This article pinpoints 5 characteristics that make us human in a unique way. Three of these are present in young children and remind us of Alison Gopnik’s words that young children are the research and development phase of humanity.

The first characteristic is being playful. This is my personal favourite. Although many animals play, no species pursue such a wide variety of play over such a long period. Although the nature of play changes as we get older, humans still play into old age. What makes human play different, is the great degree of imagination that is generated in play. If we look at the pinnacle of play in the preschool phase, it is imaginative play that provides children with the opportunity to socialise, compromise and learn from mistakes. Play isn’t simply for fun (Marc Bekoff). Through play, young children develop muscle strength, rhythm, coordination, balance and spatial skills. Even more important is the ability to develop a theory of mind as well as a social instinct. To me one of the most important benefits of play, is the ability to develop creative thinking and problem solving skills. Children playing without interference of adults learn to trust their instincts, and they learn from the mistakes they make. The article comes to the conclusion that play is a sort of simulator that allows us to imagine and try out different scenarios with little risk. One of the benefits of imaginative playing is the development of symbolic thought. The young baby, holding a wooden block to his ear, pretending to talk on a cell phone, is replacing a real object with a symbol of that object. The development of symbolic thinking underlies the development of reading, writing and math.

The second characteristic is one that parents of young children are very familiar with. It is the ability to sort the surrounding environment and experiences into categories. Children are natural scientists looking for meaning in the world around them. The much loved, often repeated question of young children: “But why ..?”, epitomizes this scientific quest. This question eventually links up with the symbolic thinking with the purpose to understand the world better and to be in control of the world. The question “why” is fundamental to the young child taking apart a toy to see why and how it is working; a much more enduring reward than putting batteries in a toy!

The next characteristic is the tendency to make rules. Anyone observing imaginative play in a group of 4 to 6 year old children will notice that making rules is a major part of the play. In fact, this is one of the benefits of play. If we look at this benefit longitudinally we can assume that to play by the rules is a building block of morality. Although rules differ from society to society, and whether we agree with the rules or not, rules are an inherent part of every society. Children playing are thus, without knowing, preparing themselves to function within a particular society.

We often think of children as being in a process of becoming a human being. But by their nature, children are already finely tuned humans.

15 Reasons to finger paint

6 Feb


From this week onwards, I have decided to not only focus on brain development and learning; but also to share successful activities and experiences from our preschool with you. Finger painting is an age-old activity that never fails to enthral kids. This activity has been around for ages. I really mean AGES. Last year scientists uncovered a very interesting find: (as reported on History.com)

Researchers have uncovered evidence that children as young as 2 decorated France’s Rouffignac caves with markings known as finger flutings at least 13,000 years ago, drawing not only simple lines but also symbolic shapes. The most prolific budding artist, thought to have been a 5-year-old girl, braved the pitch-dark caverns’ rocky terrain to hone her craft on high, remote corners—perched, perhaps, on the shoulders of an approving adult.

Although today we would prefer that our kids don’t paint on the walls, we know that the benefits of finger painting are numerous. I have tried to be thorough in the list below, of reasons why finger painting is beneficial. Please feel free to add more benefits in the comments box!

  1. Kids can learn informally about mixing and exploring colours.
  2. Sensory integration is promoted.
  3. All the senses are involved: seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and (if you use edible paint) tasting!
  4. Finger painting strengthens the finger and hand muscles, thereby improving fine motor development .
  5. The development of hand-eye coordination is supported.
  6. If you place the paper on the floor, large muscle control and balance could be improved.
  7. Finger painting is easier for little fingers that are not yet ready to manipulate a brush with skill.
  8. This is a non-prescriptive way of promoting children’s self-expression.
  9. There is a focus on the process, not on the end result or the finished product.
  10. Finger painting is therapeutic – children can express their feelings visually without using words.
  11. It stimulates creativity and imagination.
  12. Finger painting is an excellent way of creating shared art work with a group of kids working together.
  13. The finished art work and the process are stimulation points for discussion on the creative process, the colours, the themes, the design etc , thus language development is promoted.
  14. Kids learn that they can manipulate and be in control of their surroundings.
  15. It is MESSY, which also means it is FUN!

Photo Credit: Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/photos/48873600@N08/5139924820/

The importance of art

8 Oct

One of my hobbies is to study the development of children’s art and their creativity. Children’s creative processes have intrigued and fascinated me through all my years of working with children. This blog is the first in a series devoted to art and creativity development in children.

Creativity is not the sole domain of art. Creative thought lies at the foundation of problem solving. Visual art is viewed as an important way to help people develop creative problem solving skills.

We all want our children to have creative problem solving skills. In professions like engineering, construction and even in human relationships, creative problem solving skills separate those who excel at their professions from those who only “work”. Why is this important? The hallmark of entrepreneurs is the knack to look beyond the obvious possibilities. Creativity sparks the possibility of seeing options. Obviously, to see a variety of options and to choose one, assume the courage to take a leap into the unknown. Creative thought does not automatically lead to success. In fact, failure is more often the result.

Research on creativity in young children states that art plays a very important role in the development of creativity. By the term “children’s art”, I refer to the personal, first-hand experience (seeing, feeling, doing, hearing) of the creative process. Sadly, as adults we often emphasize the end result which inevitably entails the copying of another person’s experience. Obviously, this practice nips creativity in the bud.

What then are the requisites for the development of creativity? We could start by looking at the universal development of children’s art. It is a well documented process; and just as crawling is important for walking and running, scribbles are important for drawing, painting and creating. The scribble is not just random marks on paper. Children as young as 18 months will make circular “pictures” on paper, using one colour. The next step is a circular scribble in more than one colour. After this phase, children start to scribble several smaller circles, which in turn leads to the beloved “head-foot man” of which there are several variations.

Children as young as 24 months can indicate that they can observe a difference between drawing and text. This, of course, is no indication of being ready to write. It only shows the keen observation skill of a two- year-old. Smaller circles arranged in a more or less straight line is the beginning of writing. After this phase, the typical head-foot figure emerges. Normally the early image of a head-foot man is a round circle with two eyes. Many times the eyes are outside the head circle. This all is developmentally normal and indicates the young child’s growing awareness of space and position in space. Is this art? Strictly speaking, yes. The child is depicting his or her experience of the self in the surrounding world. This exploration of space, media and emerging writing skills are absolutely necessary to be able to be creative in the true sense of the word.

Creativity is a process. We can be creative if we have knowledge, skills and an opportunity where we can apply this knowledge and skills in a new situation. The toddler and young child are gathering knowledge about the use of space (paper), crayons, paint or collage. Repeated experience will lead to a more effective use of the space and the media. The important thing to remember is that as the young child’s “art” develops, her observation and perception of herself and the surrounding world are also improving. Voila! One day, out of the blue, a picture like this one of the chameleon catching the fly appears. This is basically a head-foot man adapted with four legs and a long tongue sketched after the child observed a chameleon in the garden.

The child’s sense of self and the ability to have a positive image of him- or herself depend very much on the adults’ ability to not interfere with the child’s pictures.  The well-known educational scientist, Sugata Mitra, said we must be like loving grandmothers, stand behind the child and say: “This is wonderful, did you do it? Show me, can you do some more.” In other words, do not interfere with the process of development. The tiny, budding seed of creativity depends on the child’s feeling of “I am unique and fantastic and I can”.  (By the way, colouring books are creativity killers. Keep them far away from young children. Rather give them clean paper, soft pastels and lots of opportunities to explore their own creative process.)

I will share some more aspects of this intriguing process in next week’s blog post.

Photo credit: Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/laffy4k/404321726/in/photostream/