Fostering creativity in 8-10 year olds can be tricky business, as all children this age gravitate toward conformity. Around 3rd grade, children become much more structured and reality-based. Drawings become less fanciful and more realistic, often losing their playful or “fantastic” quality. Children become invested in doing things “right,” fitting in to peer culture, and making their work look like their peers’ or the way they feel it “should” look. They hesitate to take risks outside of their comfort zone and have strong notions of what “good” is in any given field or activity. In fact, according to researchers such as James Moran, over the course of elementary school there is a 25% drop in what we would identify as creative attempts, a number that does not show equal increase until the college years (*Moran et al., 1983). Adding to this challenge is the reality of how most schools function, which is to teach and reward convergent or linear thinking, where there is one right or “best” answer. Thus, parents who value creativity are working against two almost overwhelming forces: the expected developmental drive towards conformity and the educational drive towards creating a classroom of students who all have the same knowledge.
In order to increase creativity among this group, parents must have a clear handle on what exactly creativity is and how best to foster it. While we tend to associate creativity with the arts (music, theater, painting, etc.), in reality, creative processes underlie all subject and work areas. In fact, creativity can be more broadly defined as the means by which we find new ways of solving problems and approaching situations. The act of creativity involves applying out-of-the-box thinking and unconventional approaches. It includes the ability to see multiple perspectives and to utilize flexibility of thought. When there is a byproduct, it is generally something novel and valuable to self or others.
What Parents Can Do
A great many of tomorrow’s jobs do not even exist today. Thus, securing a future means children today need the ability to adapt, create, and invent. They need the tools creativity offers. An easy foray into supporting creativity is to allow your child an ongoing means of creative expression. Work with her developmental drive for independence and provide a creative corner with open-ended tools (e.g., scrapbooking paper, various writing utensils, journals, upcycled items, etc.). Think of your child’s interests or talents, and mix things up. For your artist, for example, offer tinfoil as a new surface for painting (mix some soap in the paint to prevent chipping); for your spy, show him how to make secret messages with wax to reveal with watercolor or grape juice.
Welcome the elaborate experiments (messy as they may be) or the proposed inventions that may or may not work. Ask questions that allow your child to discover possible pitfalls on her own. As independence and control are vital ingredients to the creative process in children this age, make your comments about the process as opposed to the end result. Discovering her creative self “on her own” is the most powerful way to open the doors to increased creativity.
Parents can support creative thinking as much as creative expression. Children this age often rely on ways of thinking that are routine, common, or popular. One way to increase diversity of ideas and the overall creative process is to support divergent thinking—the ability to see various answers to a question or problem, often leading to the generation of unique solutions. One excellent way to do this is through “What if” or open-ended questions. Take advantage of transition moments while driving or getting ready for bed to ask your child, “What if you discovered life on another planet?” or, “How many different ways are there to make grilled cheese?”
Expose your child to numerous and unique experiences and people. Both are cannon fodder for creative, divergent thoughts. Visit various museums (even those you find boring), go to cultural festivals for all different backgrounds, or explore a range of nature trails in your area. Each provides its own new perspective on the world, and differing perspectives are exactly what 8-10 year olds are ready to learn about and integrate. Give your child as much unstructured time as possible to allow new ideas to percolate.
Model mistakes. Point them out to your child and then let her witness your own creative problem solving process. Share past frustrations and how you overcame them in the end. When your child makes a mistake (or maybe even if she doesn’t!), before correcting her, see if she can “think again,” and come up with a new way of approaching the situation. Creativity can be found in all sorts of situations and can be fostered and encouraged in many different ways, even when children themselves, or the schools they are part of, emphasize conformity.
*Moran, James D. III, Roberta M. Milgrim, Janet K. Sawyers, and Victoria R. Fu. "Original Thinking in Preschool Children." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 54 (1983): 921-926.
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