Before I started working as a psychotherapist, I worked with preschool age children in a small nursery school program that I had created. I ran this little school l for about five years before opening my private practice. One of the important things I was able to witness during my work with young children was the importance of play, and the typical high level of creativity, and natural creative exploration in young children. You don’t have to teach a young child to play. You don’t have to teach them to be creative. Children are naturally, deeply creative.
In a recent post, T. Goldstein states that 'any time a child does or learns something new they have to be creative in their own, small way. They have to come up with something original, which they’ve never done before, and something useful, which can be used to solve the problem they may be working on. Although this type of creativity may not be what we think of as being behind the great works of Picasso or Bach, the important connection between play and the arts cannot be overstated.'
It is easy for a young child to be creative before formal schooling, but it can be hard for children to keep that same sense of creative freedom once they’ve entered the classroom. Especially because of the current emphasis on curriculum standards. This tends to lead to a certain rigidness of lessons and it deprives students of the best way of learning: through personal exploration and discovery.
This tendency has unfortunately entered early schooling as well. Kindergarten is especially noted for moving away from child-directed activities and, 'disturbingly, towards high pressure teacher-led pedagogy.' Goldstein mentions that 'engagement in the arts—which emphasizes personal ways of knowing, thinking about the self, and discovery—may be key to providing children with creative experiences.'
In psychological and educational research on creativity, Goldstein states one often talks about different types of “Cs”: “Pro-C,” “Big C,” “Little-c,” and “mini-c.” “Pro-C” and “Big-C” are what we’re usually talking about when we use the word “creativity”—advances in the arts, engineering, or sciences with innovation and usefulness at the forefront.
It is “Little-c” and “mini-c” that is critical to children’s growth, knowledge, and achievement. These can be thought of as the kinds of creativity children engage in when they’re discovering something new to them. The process involved in this is foundational in later achievement and abilities.
How can we foster this capacity: One way is through engagement in pretend play and the arts. As children play they are creating a protected space for themselves to make mistakes and try out different emotions and social situations. Creating knowledge on your own is the best way to learn—children and adults alike will remember more, and know more deeply, material that they have taught to themselves over material explained to them.
Sciences, math, and engineering do also require and engender creativity. But at the elementary and middle school levels, much of the coursework in these topics is based on recreating knowledge that is already well established in those fields.
The arts on the other hand demand creativity in the moment, constant trial and error, discovery, and mistakes. Goldstein mentions that 'in a detailed ethnographic analysis of high quality visual arts classes for adolescents, psychologists Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Kim Sheridan, and Shirley Veenema found that the key concepts being taught in arts classes—beyond learning how to hold a paintbrush or mold clay—were to stretch and explore thinking about materials and topics and to observe and reflect on how to engage in artistic work.'
It may be (and research is currently investigating this) that by learning these skills in an artistic way children will be better prepared for more traditional academic learning and creating their own knowledge.
As parents we can make sure that our children can experience these kind of creativity engendering activities outside school life, which seem to be currently not feeding this need of children.
To schedule an appointment call An at Chico Center for Psychotherapy at (530) 321-2970