Blocks to Creativity? Teacher Supported?

I substituted in a pre-school classroom several weeks ago and had the chance to sit down in an open art center. Students had no parameters to their work and were only limited by the time and resources. I sat next to a young 4-year-old boy deep in work on his project. I enjoyed observing his work and he did not even notice me sitting next to him at first. Once he acknowledged my presence, I commented his concentration and how much it seemed he was enjoying his work. He responded he loved this [art] center.

His final art work is included below. What do you think it is? Can you tell?

As he was working, I just asked questions so my influence in his design was as minimal as possible. I wanted to know his thinking. First, I wanted to know what he was creating. He created a book factory machine maker. Did you guess that? As he built it, he describes what each part did in great detail. I would prompt with, ‘Tell me more,“ my favorite words in discussion.

For me, I often wonder where curiosity begins to diminish in grade school. What is the teacher’s role in blocking creativity? There is research done by Torrance showing creativity drops around the United States grade levels of kindergarten, fourth grade, and again in 7th-grade. However, there is some promise with these levels, or slumps, as Torrance describes them disappearing when teachers begin to be more intentional in planning activities for creative thinking.

As teachers, we seek right answers, but do we take time to generate a lot of possible answers? Do we take time to look at answers that might not be logical? Perhaps we should allow more time for students to generate ideas in class over content, even the the ideas are not logical. We [teachers] want to go directly to the right answer and move on because the right answer is already available to us. However, in the real-world, is the right answer always known before a problem is presented? No! An illogical answer just might spark the idea that leads to a cure for a disease or an invention to improve cell phone reception in rural areas.

When you looked at the picture above, did you say it looked like a dinosaur or a monster of some sort? When the preschooler finished, he told me he might change his book machine to a dinosaur. I asked him why. He said that is what others might think it looked like. So I asked him to tell more about his dinosaur. He said it was, “Just a dinosaur,” without the same enthusiasm or elaboration from before. His book machine factory art with every piece having a description changed to ‘just a dinosaur’ due to the fear of judgement and perceptions of others. It was clear in my interaction with the young boy he was passionate about books but less interested in dinosaurs. Also a note, when it was a book machine, he was excited to give it to his mom but when it appeared more as a dinosaur, it became a gift for me.

I strongly believe as a teacher and individual, it takes lots of intentional practices to encourage creative thinking  and activities for our students. Do teachers support the creative blocks? Yes, we do when we do not encourage multiple answers, celebrate the illogical, allow out-of-the box thinking that go outside the rules, and encourage mistakes (even ourselves). We also have to be willing to go outside our own expert teaching areas to encourage the areas our students find interesting.

Celebrate creativity yourself – learn something new! Maybe it is sewing, a new language, take a cooking classes or try yoga.

Additional reading resources:
Conceptual Blockbusting (5th ed.) by James L. Adams
A Whack on the Side of the Head: How you can me more Creative (Special Edition) by Roger von Oech
Creativity is Forever (6th ed.) by Gary A. Davis and Jay Woodward

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