Tag Archives: Ken Robinson

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!


The importance of unconditional love and acceptance

6 Nov

Brain development research is increasingly exposing the gaps in the teaching environments of students. I have previously commented on the frustration experienced by neuroscientists because of the seemingly uninterested reactions that come from teachers and parents.  To convince teachers about the research and to evoke their cooperation is not easy. Maybe some of the blame should be placed on teacher training institutions, where very little time is dedicated to the important subject of brain development. In addition to this, only a few medical faculties  – where brain research primarily takes place – reach out to schools and teachers. Johns Hopkins Medical University is one of the training institutions that actively promotes contact with schools and teachers.

The design of a learning environment that incorporates the current knowledge on brain development, will have to address the emotional and social climate in the classroom. In a previous blog we looked at the effect of stress on learners. In the light of the potential damage that could unwittingly be inflicted on learners’ self confidence, as well as their ability to learn and to give attention, it is important that we look at this aspect again. This time I will focus specifically on how stress impairs the acquisition of important skills.

Mariale Hardiman, from the Johns Hopkins School of Education, says that creativity and creative problem solving skills are some of the most important aspects that should be specifically taught in all subject areas.  Sir Ken Robinson, a leading author on creativity and education, agrees with Hardiman. He feels so strongly about the teaching of creativity that he links this to learners’ ability to function successfully in a future world where resilience, creative thinking, group skills and problem solving skills will be the primary abilities employers will look for. This future that Robinson refers to, is not the future of the next generation. This future is now. The group of people who lost their jobs with the USA economic slump, discovered this reality. In a short period of three years their jobs disappeared.

Schmidt and Schwabe (in Scientific American) very clearly found with their research that it is exactly the development of the abovementioned skills that are undermined by stress experienced by learners. It is not always schools that are the primary stress-inducing agents. Parents that start their children on formal prescriptive programmes like Kumon, teach their babies to read and play ‘educational’ DVDs (that are supposed to make children clever) are all placing stress on young children.

What do young children feel? Very few people stop to think about the effect of all of these “clever” operations on children. David Elkind says that the only thing children really want to know, is that they are the most important people in their parents’ world. Reacting to this, parents usually reply loudly: “Yes, but that is exactly why we do it!”. Unfortunately, this is not the message that children experience. They perceive that their parents’ love is conditional. I am loved if I perform. The problem is thus that children’s perceptions become their reality. A long term reality.

All young children have the potential to be brilliant, but with enough stressors in their lives, they could experience themselves as being failures. Often, this stress is a consequence of the conditional message received from loving, demanding parents or teachers. We should focus on creating a learning environment (both at home and in school) where the acquiring of important future skills is not hampered by unnecessary stressors in children’s life.


Elkind, D. 2001. The hurried child: Growing up too fast, too soon.

Hardiman, M. M. 2009. The Creative-Artistic Brain. In: Mind, Brain and Education: Neuroscience Implications for the classroom.

Robinson, K. 2001. Out of our Minds: Learning to be creative.

Schmidt, M. V. & Schwabe, L.:  September/October 2011. Splintered by Stress. In: Scientific American Mind.

Picture: Woodleywonderworks – Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/wwworks/3057345015/