Submitted by Jan Boner, ECMMA Editorial Chair
“Make a train!” says a three year old as he lines up two rhythm sticks in his hands. Another child bursts out, “Look, an airplane!” as the sticks soar in the air. Yet another exclaims, “Make a Hummer!” Simple rhythm sticks can become just about anything in the mind of a three-year-old. Creative imaginations effervesce in the play of preschool children.
Today's children are tomorrow's leaders. The workforce today is searching for creative thinkers who will think outside the box to solve problems, make new connections and have flexible insights with an enthusiasm for learning. The inventor of penicillin, Sir Alexander Fleming, claimed to “play” with microbes and creatively happened upon the discovery. So how do we encourage this quality in our children? This article will discuss creativity and practical ways to encourage this in the classroom or home.
Of course, creativity is not referring to bringing something new into existence. It is also not a “gift” given to only select artists or musicians. This “thinking outside the box” includes solving problems, producing works of art, music or original thought, but is not necessarily limited to this. It is characterized by reaching new levels of explorations and understanding. This action requires motivation, imagination, reflection and making connections that surpass previous limitations.
Creativity is observed as a toddler dabs his hand in oatmeal and paints on the highchair tray, or as a child freely spins and runs through the playground, or as a four-year-old gleefully expresses thoughts with a spontaneous song. It is found in pretend play as children reenact their perceptions of the world and explore new roles. Creativity is an innate quality in the development of all children.
Parents and teachers cultivate creativity as they nourish children's enthusiasm for learning and novel expressions. The important part of a creative activity for children is the process, not the performance or final product. Our goal is not necessarily to produce the next Mozart, but to encourage creative expression, independent thinking, and problem solving. Activities can be very musical, yet not necessarily a creative endeavor without involving original ideas and experimental thinking. Parents and teachers can easily set up a creative greenhouse to nurture expression and full creative development that will benefit children into adulthood.
- Make a safe environment of acceptance where there are no right and wrong ways. Reward effort, interesting ideas and unusual answers. Allow personal expressions with such things as unique clothing combinations.
- Catch your baby cooing vocal slides and imitate them. The aria begins! When your preschooler spontaneously breaks into song or rhythm, reply in the same musical way. Any tune will do since you are the originator!
- Make lots of opportunities to explore creative movement ideas. Don't necessarily model the actions. Ask the children to solve the problem. There are many ways to move like a duck! Identify a child role model. Then challenge them to “Show me how a mad duck moves; a tired duck; with a broken leg!” With imagination there are endless possibilities. Simple manipulative objects can enhance movements, such as scarves and hoops. Also try a feather boa, bubble wrap, or ribbon.
- Explore sound objects found around the room. Sort similar sounds distinguishing and describing the differences. Make instruments from items found in the kitchen. After initial noise making, discriminating choices and combinations are made and the creativity begins. There are many ideas to make homemade instruments on the web or in books.
- Provide simple instruments of good quality sound such as rhythm sticks, shakers, and jingle bells. Explore drums or other fragile instruments with supervision. Explain that instruments are not toys and need to be cared for with respect. Explore one instrument at a time so its sound quality can be thoroughly investigated. Add a steady beat to accompany a song, poem or recording.
At times during instrument activities I use in my class, teachers or parents have corrected a child, insisting that they just follow my example. They don't realize that I am following the child's creative flow to validate their ideas! While imitation can be a necessary step in making connections and passing previous limitations, there is also benefit to unstructured exploration to encourage further creative connections. Most of all encourage the innovative expressions of your children whether in song, movement or instruments. Freely explore endless possibilities with your children now so this creative perspective will be theirs as an adult.