The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 20, 2001
Lead Article

There are so many colours in the rainbow; So many colours in the morning sun; So many colours in the flower, and I see every one!

Just as all children are not equally intelligent, all children may not be equally creative. But the good news is that creativity can be nurtured and developed in children. However, it is important to understand what separates creativity from intelligence and talent, says Smriti Bakshi

Flowers are red, green leaves are green

There’s no need to see flowers any other way

Than the way they always have been seen.

— (The Flowers are Red— Harry Chapin)






RIGHT FROM that first tentative step that parents so anxiously wait for, through those bold crayon marks on the walls and collages of a ‘few of their favourite things’, made-up jingles and imaginary playmates… your child is growing with an innate curiosity to explore the world. The capacity to change a plain lump of playdough into interesting shapes, the insights that come with the "pretend" games are all motivators for the inherent creativity that is, sadly, so often lost before they are out of childhood.


Creativity may be considered in terms of process, product or a person. It can be seen in an artistic child who has immense talent for sketching, painting or in a child producing an innovative toy basket. But it is really the process of developing and generating original ideas, which is, the sum and substance of creative potential. It is the ability to see things in a new way, to see problems that no one else may even realise exist, and then come up with unique and effective solutions to these problems. A few of which will be offbeat and some original with numerous possibilities—hence creative.

Just as all children are not equally intelligent, all children may not be equally creative. But good news is that creativity can be nurtured and developed in children. But to do that it is important to understand what separates creativity from intelligence and talent. A highly creative child may or may not be highly intelligent or possess artistic and musical talent. For instance, an artistic child may have excellent technical skills, but may not able to evince an emotional response from the audience, which is very crucial. Creativity in children is primarily the fluency in generating ideas involving adaptability and flexibility of thought. Hence for young children, the focus of creativity should remain on process: the generation of ideas.

Through the socialisation process, children move towards conformity during the elementary school years. Statistics suggest that the percentage of original responses in idea-generating tasks drop from about 50 per cent among four-year-olds to 25 per cent among children in elementary school. For young children, a non-evaluative atmosphere appears to be a critical factor in avoiding the "right answer fixation." Though the teachers should evoke responses —right or wrong— from the children, they are mostly limited by mounting syllabi and an education system that is designed to get children through tests by giving the single right answer that the examiner wants. Hence it largely falls on the parents shoulders to encourage their child to explore ideas and concepts and come up with explanations, whether or not correct. Other studies have shown that structured materials, especially when combined with structured instructions, reduce flexibility in four-year-old children. Colouring books are a common way parents try to get their children creatively inclined towards art. This is not such a good idea, from the view of encouraging creativity. The reason why young children exhibit relatively superior creative style is that they have not yet learnt to see the world conventionally. Colouring books nullify this strength by presenting routine drawings that push children to see a bright yellow sun, for instance, shining over the mountains with a stream flowing by a big brown hut, all surrounded by a thick outline. The question of how to draw scenery (or a house or a flower) is answered for the child in a terribly unnatural and trivial way. The opportunity for creative growth lies in letting the child draw how he sees the scene in his mind and then experiment with pencil or crayon or paint irrespective of the quality of work. Rewards or incentives for children also appear to be in conflict with the creative process. Although rewards may not affect the number of responses on problem-solving tasks, they seem to reduce the quality of children’s responses and the flexibility of their thought. Research suggests that children who appear to be creative are often involved in imaginative play,and are motivated by internal factors rather than external conditions, such as rewards and incentives.

As a parent, you hold it in your hand to cultivate your child’s creativity by nurturing and protecting the inherent ability in them to spot the shades of grey instead of just black and white (as adults so often do) in their environment. Set examples by sharing your own enthusiasm and pursuit of a hobby or an occupation — it maybe artistic, scientific, or anything else— with your child. Your enthusiasm may enthuse your child to take up activities that he/she feels passionate about. Parents can provide a stimulating environment by introducing a variety of materials, books and games, befitting the child’s age, abilities, and skills. Listen to the child’s questions and comments about his or her observations. Ask a lot of questions about his observation. New questions and perception may emerge from this process of exploration together. Remember that children who are constantly directed to come up with the ‘right’ solutions lose the confidence and spontaneity that is so very essential for the development of creative thinking.

Young children attach greater importance to the performance of an activity, the finished product holds very little interest. Parents or adults in the household should encourage the process by comments such as "That seemed like a lot of fun" or "You must have worked hard on this," which relate to the child’s own perception of the activity.The younger the child, the more true this is. It is very important to accommodate children’s concept rather than try to structure it to fit your own. Respect their efforts and let them know that you have confidence in their ability to do well. Many sensitive children are frightened away by creative activities picked by parents who expect them to produce "something". Hence as a parent it becomes imperative to not judge their work. A child who learns to paint, or make up songs to please an adult has already lost some of the spirit to experiment with new things. Children should have both freedom and responsibility to deal with the consequences of their thinking.

Provide an environment that allows the child to explore and play without undue restraints. Let your child have as much freedom as possible in the area of creative play. It means providing enough material like blocks, musical instruments and supervised use of sand, water, crayons, dough, and paint to experiment with. Don’t forget to allow and appreciate creative (but not ruinous) use of ordinary household things—pans, used tyres, flowers.

Considering the narrow attention span of toddlers, it is advisable to keep activities very simple lest the elaborate preparation and clean-up operation end up taking more time than the activity itself. As children get older, the attention span increases too. It is then that the child should be introduced to model perseverance. He should be motivated to complete a project by encouraging each step and effort involved in the process and by helping the child to understand his or her own strengths and weaknesses. Every child needs to learn to conform in many ways — to learn to recognise others’ rights and to be aware of safety rules amongst other things. Also without a framework of reasonable expectations, exploration and originality will in all probability be chaotic.

 However, care has to be taken to find the right balance between conformity and freedom so as not to sacrifice the quest for creativity to seek parental approval. If a child draws his/ her self-worth from keeping his immediate environment clean, doing things the right way or being at best behaviour at all times then there will be no energy or desire left for being creative. Creating would not be much fun if the usual response from adults is about either cleanliness or how neatly the work is done. Adult acceptance of multiple ideas in a non-evaluative atmosphere helps children in generating more ideas. This facilitates a natural move towards the next stage — of discovering themselves.

As children develop the ability for self-evaluation, they give importance to the quality of the generated ideas. They test their abilities to generate and evaluate ideas, and revise their opinions based on that evaluation. And in the case of adolescents, what matters to them is what others think of their work and ideas. Be appreciative, accept unusual ideas from them and allow time for the child to explore all possibilities, moving from general to more original ideas. Just sit back and enjoy the creative process with your child.

Encourage your child to experiment with the novel and the unusual. Exposing your child to a diversity of cultures within the country and across the world, worthwhile experiences, different people and ways of thinking will help in enhancing creativity. Let them see different things coexist in this world. It is also important to loosen the reins once in a while to let children try new experiences within their capabilities.

One way to help children to think more creatively is to pose challenging tasks. Ask them how they would change things to make them better. What would taste better if some sugar was added to it? What would be more interesting if it was yellow and red? What would be more fun if it were faster or slower?. Ask "what would happen if?" (What would happen if there was no water? What would happen if there were no animals?). Ask "in-how-many-different-ways" questions. (How many different ways can a tyre be used?) In creative play such as "follow the leader," encourage a child to think of creative movements and experience the reward of others following their example. Use simple materials (blocks, mud, sand, clay, water, and paints) that the child can build and design using their own skills. Play the "continuing story" game. Someone starts the story and then each person adds a part. Read a story and act it out. Use puppets to act out a plot. Try experimenting with props and doodles to create new ideas. (Give them a straight line and ask them to come up with as many things they can think of, if they add one more line to it).Through role-playing (family happenings, simulation games, school situations), children can be made to see the viewpoints of others and to explore their feelings. Have children describe the people they see in pictures or on the road or how they might feel or think. Creative visualisation is yet another powerful tool to help children (4yrs and above) to use their imagination to overcome obstacles, to achieve goals and increase awareness of themselves and their surroundings. It could be a 10-15 minute exercise. Ask your child to close his eyes and imagine himself taking a walk through a beautiful garden. Once he does that ask him a whole lot of questions ranging from the dew on the grass to how he jumped over a particular fence.

Parents who encourage their child’s creativity have an opportunity to learn and shape their child’s thinking processes. By experiencing new ways of perceiving the world together, parents help foster children’s abilities to deal with change in a resilient manner and in seeing things in a new way. By nurturing your child’s creativity— and indeed your own — you will be unleashing a force that will both enrich and empower your lives. Let your child see what the little boy saw….

There are so many colours in the rainbow

So many colours

in the morning sun

So many colours in

the flower and I see every one.

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