Oops. I got sidetracked from what I meant to post today by an article I came across last evening. This is just a bit of opinionatedness coming out, and you are welcome to disagree with me. :-) I suppose all you really need is the title of the post, but here's more, if you're interested:
Take children from their natural "work" of self-directed play and exploration; sit them in a chair and confine them to about four square feet of personal space for much of the day (during the most important developmental years of their lives); ask them not to speak unless they raise their hands and are granted permission; insist that they keep their minds solely and fully on the task that has been assigned to them; teach them always to color within the lines, and correct them that the sky is blue when they veer from this truth; tell them there is one right way to solve a problem and reward them with superlatives and gold stars when they find it; tell them where to sit, where to stand, when to use the bathroom, when to speak, when and where and how to play, and so on and so forth.
Do this, and we will certainly greatly hinder the innate creativity of the children in our care. We may even succeed in suppressing or killing it entirely.
And having achieved this, but never supposing that the loss of creativity has anything to do with children being schooled, we innocently and earnestly scratch our heads and wonder why they have become increasingly less creative as they’ve grown older.
We are astute enough to recognize that creativity is important—that this is what sparks invention, great art, literature, and music, and all kinds of beauty and innovation, as well as an ability to think well and solve challenging problems—so, we put our best adult educational minds together to imagine and devise ways to help our children develop the important skill of creativity.
We study it, analyze it, dissect it, ask how our great thinkers, inventors, creators, and leaders thought and worked, and then we develop exercises that will nudge (or require) our school children to begin to think like those creative minds. We write curricula and develop programs, and--voila!--we have very poorly, ineffectively, and likely incorrectly, attempted to capture what would have been natural had we left children alone.
Children are innately creative. Really, in light of the fact that we are made in the image of our Creator, is this any wonder? We are made to think and act creatively.
Children easily and naturally develop creativity through self-directed play. Children choose to play only at what is interesting to them, and we all know that when something interests us, we are able to apply a great deal of focus and energy to that endeavor. As they play, children solve problems and set challenges for themselves at the perfect level of difficulty. They like to stretch and reach (they are bored otherwise), but the goals they set are also attainable (if they are too difficult, children will simply reset them without grading themselves or feeling like they have failed). Upon success, after a sufficient amount of “practice” at that level, children set the bar higher. Then higher. And higher. And all along, they think critically and trouble-shoot creatively. They develop ideas and new ways of doing things. They think “out of the box” (to use a bit of jargon).They are intensely focused, they are highly motivated, they are having fun, and they are highly successful.
During play, children also learn naturally to appreciate beauty. Their senses are attuned to the world around them—to the wonders of nature, to the strains of a lovely composition in the background, to what is beautiful, interesting, or appealing. They soak it in subtly and constantly and gain a deep appreciation for what is lovely. They begin to develop tastes and preferences that are all their own, and they apply this sensibility to everything they consider and do.
Children behave in play the way we only dream they will behave in school.
All you have to do is look up “play and creativity” on Google or Google Scholar to see that research shows the two to be powerfully linked. But when scholars and educators realize that play is an important key to the development of creativity, they don’t think, “Oh, that’s easy. We’ll let the kids play, just like they did from the minute they were born.” Instead, we say to these school children, “Quit playing around and get back to work!” And, as we speak the words, we are devising strategies to make school more playful and spending huge sums of money on programs that will incorporate (teacher-guided) play into lessons.
Does this strike anyone else as ludicrous? How about this innovative idea instead: Just let kids play. Let them at it! And stay out of it.
When looking up a certain book on the internet last night, I ran across some ideas about creativity that seemed to be presented as eye-opening. I scanned the article for its supposed new insight, but all I found was what parents of kids who spend long hours at unstructured, self-guided play already know. Each of these suggestions seems obvious because they occur naturally within true play, especially in a home environment that is established to encourage play and learning.
In this home atmosphere it doesn’t even occur to us to tell kids to do something creative (as the “Forget Brainstorming” article—linked above—warns against doing) because, when they play, they already are. Likewise, we don’t need to tell them (or lure them) to get moving because, again, they already are. We don’t need to encourage them to take breaks or switch things up because this is how kids roll when they play. All of this research is innate to them. We don’t need to worry about reducing screen time because it has already made sense to us that screen time keeps our kids from many good things, so we’ve addressed that. The part about exploring other cultures? Well, what did creative people do before they could watch a documentary on China? As long as our kids are around a variety of interesting, diverse people and we are listening to their stories and learning about them, I don’t think we need to overstress this. Follow a passion? Well, isn’t that what kids do when they play? And never fear! The interests and passions of childhood become more sophisticated (and look more scholarly) as kids grow older. Ditch the suggestion box? Yeah, well, we never had one of those, either.
You know me. I’m a mostly unschoolish type, so it probably seems natural for me to say “just let a child play and everything will fall into place.” I do think play is powerful, but I don’t think play alone will make everything come together for education or life. (Again, it’s about that atmosphere, and play is part of that—a big part.) I’m also not saying that a child shouldn’t learn to listen well, sit still, pay attention, focus on the task at hand, and finish the work he is given, but a schoolish structure should not overwhelmingly dominate his time. I don’t know about you, but if I were to err, I would err on the side of allowing too much free time because I found that when my kids were deeply engaged in life and play, free time became very serious, creative, and (I cringe to say it) productive, “work.”
Creativity demands time and freedom for a person to play in his own way, from early childhood all the way into old age. I believe that true play is good work, and the development of creativity arises from this.