Creativity

To Encourage Creativity in Kids, Ask Them: ‘What if’?

January 12, 2017
in Kids

I was in a second-grade classroom recently reading from my new children’s book, “Runaway Booger.” After I finished, and the giggling subsided, several students asked a version of the same question: Why did you write about a humongous ball of mucus? It was the question I’d hoped for. I was using the reading session, at the teacher’s request, to get the children to think about creativity. Where does creativity come from? Are there tricks they can use to be more creative, or, for that matter, that parents and educators can instill? It’s a subject I think about a lot, as a writer of newspaper articles, mysteries and nonfiction books, a syndicated comic strip and music. (It is sad but true: To accompany the booger book, I wrote a rock anthem called “Don’t Pick Your Nose.”) Scholars who study creativity say that stoking it involves helping children strike a balance between two dichotomous tools: the whimsy and freedom of a wandering mind, with the rigidity of a prepared one. We need to help them be both “sensitive and assertive,” in the words of John Dacey, professor emeritus of education at Boston College. “Sensitivity means being open to new ideas, and very laid back,” he explained. Assertiveness doesn’t just mean being bold enough to express the idea but having enough experience and judgment to feel true authority about its value. It means understanding a genre’s structure and form. That can take hard work, and years, but to Dr. Dacey, merely having a good idea doesn’t qualify as genuine creativity until it is matched with execution and follow-through. “People think creativity is inspiration,” Dr. Dacey said, “but it’s mainly perspiration.” To help the second graders inspire and perspire, I pulled out a red marker, and on a whiteboard I wrote two...

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