Children enter this period of development eager, creative, and curious. They are becoming more adept and creative in using their expanding knowledge of the world to engage in everyday problem solving. In this domain they continue to show relatively high levels of confidence and belief in their own abilities and skill level. In fact, 6- and 7-year-olds are highly motivated, retain high fantasy in their play, take pleasure in challenge, and (as a result of increased learning and memory skills) are in the process of becoming experts in various domains — all prerequisites for creativity! Unfortunately, across this time period, children begin to measure themselves relative to their peers and to seek to meet societal expectations. Thus, by the time they are 8, most children will show an decrease in confidence and a marked decline in creative thinking as measured by divergent thinking tests.
What factors limit children’s creative abilities at this age? One limitation is their struggle to generalize learning. Knowledge and skills for children this age are very context-specific, and thus they are not able to apply learning to new situations. For instance, they often do not realize that a word problem and a numeric problem are asking for the same skill (e.g., to solve the same 4+5 addition sentence). Thus they cannot spontaneously apply familiar ways of thinking to novel events, which prevents them from “going a step farther” with their problem solving. One way to combat this is to expose your child to learning in many different venues, across a number of contexts.
Other Things Parents Can Do
Creative experiences in various venues maintain creativity. For example, they help children express and cope with their feelings, something 6-and 7-year olds are developing more control over. Creative experiences foster intellectual growth in that creative thoughts become a forum to try out new ideas, new ways of thinking, and different ways to problem solve. Play is a wonderful way to foster creativity by developing each child’s unique perspective, advancing creative expression, and providing a safe forum to try out new ideas and experiment with familiar ways.
There are in fact many things that parents can do to support the continued development of creativity and creative thinking:
- Make discovery a process. Don’t always provide the answer; instead invite your child to do so.
- Encourage experimentation with the novel or unusual and encourage divergent thinking. Tear up the box. Use art materials in new or unexpected ways. Welcome the mess that creativity entails, whether that be the mixed up art supplies or the bedroom pillows that are now a part of the living room fort. Try this super simple but super creative game where kids use a single line to create a “course” for their rider, drawing on cause and effect, logic, and reasoning as well.
- Inspire perseverance. This is a trait that 6- and 7-year olds are known for, so take advantage of your child’s natural proclivity to stick with something challenging.
- Help your child learn how to brainstorm. Like learning memory strategies, learning how to approach problems in new ways is a skill that can be developed. For a fun online brainstorming tool try Popplet.
- Cultivate the notion of multiple solutions to a single problem. One way to do this is to say to your child, “Nine is the solution. What’s the problem?” Encourage your child to explore some Choose Your Own Adventure stories to explore multiple solutions with literacy as well.
- Balance process and product. Unfinished work is part of the experience, but encouraging problem solving through to completion is sometimes a goal as well.
- Stretch your child’s perspective. Children this age are still egocentric, meaning they are limited in their ability to see things from another person’s point of view. Ask questions like, “Imagine you are a number: What’s good and what’s bad about being the number you chose?” Have them tell a story from a different character’s point of view (e.g., from Baby Bear’s perspective in Goldilocks), or draw a picture looking up as an ant. To support the development of different perspectives, try these fictional letters from the First Thanksgiving. Try this for a fun online fractured fairy tale option.
- Ask your child to find new uses for something. Gently push him beyond the everyday typical answers. Try: “What could we do with a mountain of snow, besides make a snowman?”
- Provide novel items, to break the rut of the “typical.” What about using sugar cubes as blocks? Or ground up Fruit Loops® for sand art? There are lots of ways to get creative. Try Modge Podge paper designs on smooth rocks to make story stones, or “tinker toy” pieces from marshmallows and pretzels. Nothing (safe) is off limits!
- Support the need for “real” or “standard” in inventive ways. For example, think foam stickers on bottle caps to make stamps. Instead of paint brushes, “stamp” these items in paint. Use the bottom of a 2-liter soda bottle to make “flowers;” cut a green pepper in half horizontally to stamp 3-leaf clovers; or cut off the tops of a cluster of celery and just use the remaining base to stamp “roses.” Want a fun way to challenge even the rigidity of the “stick figure?” Give this activity a try.
- Make commercial toys open ended. Invest in free-form Lego collections, puppets, dolls, lots of different kinds of writing utensils, costumes, etc. If you get kits, make them ones that allow exploration as much as a single “end product.”
- Support mistakes. Let your child know that mistakes get us one step closer to solutions, and they sometimes help us identify new problems. Not understanding something allows your child the opportunity to learn new things. Read Mistakes that Worked by Charlotte Foltz Jones.
- Invite questions and offer your own to encourage new ways of thinking. One way to do this is to interject new ways of thinking as you go about everyday life. So ask your child if the dessert would taste better if it were sweeter, or if she thinks it’s fair that ostriches cannot fly and why.
- Get involved. Jump aboard her rocket, become the thief in her storyline. Extend your child’s play through comments and questions.
- Expose your child to different ways of doing things. For example, challenge your child’s notion that everything has to be “right” or “the same” by attending an impressionistic exhibit or examining cubist art. Can’t get to a museum easily? Give these virtual experiences a go! Check out the National Gallery of Art interactives (WOW!) or take a look at Picasso Head where kids can look at Picasso paintings and then make their own!