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Thinking Creatively About Creativity

Dr. Azi Jamalian — one of our co-founders who holds a Ph.D. in childhood development– helps guide parents on offline ways to reinforce math lessons with their kids. In this post she sheds light on the underlying developmental theories behind games.

  1. Myth #1: Only geniuses with extraordinary intelligence and artists can be creative. Wrong! We all have the potential to be creative. There is an interesting essay titled “The Brain of Einstein” in Ronald Barthes‘ book Mythologies that points out how we envision a creative person like Albert Einstein to be a superpower, and how wrong we are in making that assumption.
  2. Myth #2: Creativity does not apply to fields such as mathematics and science. Wrong! A big part of success in any field (including math and science) is introspection, coming up with new ideas and new solutions, representing and re-representing ideas, deconstructing and redirecting approaches, imagining things that do not exist, and so on. Probably the most well-known example of a creative work in science is the discovery of the structure of DNA. Interested to know about this discovery? Check out the chapter “Two Case Studies in Creativity” in Robert W. Weisberg’s book Creativity: Understanding Innovation in Problem Solving, Science, Invention, and the Arts.
  3. Myth #3: Creativity is an individual gift, done alone in a quiet corner. Wrong again! Creative ideas/projects/solutions can easily emerge from group collaboration of one sort or another. The Group Genius book written by Keith Sawyer breaks down this myth about creativity and argues how creative thinking is always a collaborative process.
  4. Myth #4: Creativity happens overnight. Once again, wrong! Creativity is a process. It’s the process of coming up with ideas, examining ideas, bringing ideas from one field to the other, taking risks, making mistakes, and building on those mistakes. I highly recommend reading the book Creating Minds by Howard Gardner which depicts the creative processes of luminaries in a multitude of fields: Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi.
  5. Myth #5: Restriction and limitations hurt creativity. Actually, this one is open to discussion, but some research suggests that having some structure but not too much restriction may in fact help creativity. For example, think about 10 toys you can make with a circle, a line, and a square. Now think about 10 tools you can make with a circle, a line, and a square. In his book Creative Imagery, Ronald A. Finke presents research that shows that giving some structure such as function and type of innovation helps spur creativity.

How can we boost creativity in children? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Encourage risk taking. Creative failure is never a bad thing, especially when a child learns from it.
  • Encourage your child communicate ideas or things they make, draw, or imagine. Coming up with novel ideas is one thing; being able to sell them is another thing — and both are important for being creative (Sternberg & Lubart, 1995).
  • Encourage them to think outside of the box. Ask questions like, “What are the 10 things we can make out of 3 circles? What does that cloud look like?”
  • Encourage them to think of unexpected functions from familiar tools. We use spoons to eat, but what are other uses for a spoon? As a shovel? As a catapult? What are some others?
  • Encourage collaboration by asking them and their friends questions and help them build on each other’s ideas.
  • Don’t shame children for incorrect ideas; the message they’ll take away isn’t a positive lesson. Instead, help them to improve their ideas and rethink their assumptions.

Notice a theme in these tips? One related thought before we go: Independent filmmaker Kevin Smith inspired this comic strip on the cost of encouraging a young creative mind compared with the cost of discouraging them. Powerful stuff!