Maybe you’re already wondering why I’m suggesting you need to set aside creative time for your children or students. Most children are quite imaginative, and develop creative thinking skills just by encountering new things every day. The importance of creativity in education, particularly in the form of arts exposure, is also fairly well accepted.
Unfortunately, creative exploration is usually seen as auxiliary to learning rather than a necessity in a well-rounded education. When funding is cut, the arts are often among the first thing to go. As children get older, their day to day lives – including school lessons – become less novel and more routine. When we look at the definition of creativity – the ability to make new things or think of new ideas – we can see that it’s not fanciful, it’s actually quite mundane. Most adults are required to be creative in their jobs, and I’m referring to a broad range of careers here. Construction workers, lawyers, plumbers, doctors – and workers in many other fields that fall far from what we consider the arts – need to be able to think on their feet and produce new things or ideas.
The first exposure children have to creativity as a concept is through guided play. Though young children are curious by nature, creativity is slightly more structured, and can be cultivated by parents and educators. When interacting with kids during guided play time, look for learning opportunities. Encourage questions, and just as importantly, ask your child questions. Focus on simple toys and materials that promote experimentation, like blocks, paint, and playdough.
As children get older, we teach facts, figures, and formulas to be memorized and repeated. Once students reach middle and high school, they’re generally expected to write essays that go beyond the book reports and creative writing exercises of elementary school. Unfortunately, this is also the time period where plagiarism can become an issue. In a survey of 24,000 students at 70 high schools, Donald McCabe (Rutgers University) found that 58 percent of those students admitted to plagiarism. It’s easy to blame this type of cheating on laziness or poor researching skills. I think it’s also worth considering how many of these students think it’s more important that their work be completely correct, rather than taking a chance on their own thesis, analysis, and arguments – and risking being wrong. As educators, and parents, it’s important we’re careful not to chastise students for making incorrect inferences or asking uninformed questions. Instead, we should encourage curiosity and divergent thinking – at every age.
I’ve mentioned some careers that are not arts related, but what about those that are? There’s a good chance that some of the kids in any classroom will grow up to be artists, innovators, or work in a creative field like architecture, marketing, or software design. The creative process should be part of an interdisciplinary education and is critical for success in many fields, and essential for the creative industries. In the past few years, the idea of STEAM – integrating science, technology, engineering, arts, and math – has become a popular, yet contested, offshoot of more traditional STEM programs. Studies have proved that exposure to arts programming has countless benefits. For those of you critical STEAM programs, I encourage you to focus on the real-world application of ingenuity derived from the arts.
How do you encourage creativity at home or in the classroom? Do you think STEAM is as valuable at STEM education, or do you think arts programming should be distinct? Share your thoughts in the comments!