EARLY CHILDHOOD TODAY: How would you describe creativity in young children?

Docia Zavitkovsky: It's their original way of looking at things-the way they add something new to what already is-what already exists. It's a new way of looking at something. Children show their creativity in different ways. Some children show it in dance, some in art, some in what they're saying, some in the questions they ask. It's wonderful if you think of it. I think that adults go to art school to learn how to do what young children do.

ECT: What is an example of the creative questions children ask?

Zavitkovsky: I remember talking with a child about the sun. The child asked me "Where does the sun go?" I thought to myself, "Oh my gosh, I don't know where the sun goes. It goes around the world to another place." So I asked him, "Well, where do you think it goes?" He said, "Well, I think it goes to bed."

ECT: How should we respond to questions such as these?

Zavitkovsky: Sometimes we can respond with another question. For instance, the boy's answer to my question, "Where do you think the sun goes?" ("It goes to bed.") gave me an idea of the kind of answer he was ready for He was ready to learn that the sun goes down at night and comes up in the morning-and that was enough. I didn't go into the horizon and the ascent and the descent and all of that. That was not what he wanted to know. I think teachers need to be tuned in to what children are really saying, and asking, in order to respond appropriately.

ACT: How do the creative questions and statements of children reflect the way they see and make sense of the world?

Zavitkovsky: Children see the world in terms of what is in their immediate environment. A teacher I know had been away on a short vacation. When she came back to the preschool, she tried to share what she had been doing with the 4- and 5-year-olds. She talked about the Fourth of July and Washington, D.C., and so forth and the children were nodding their heads. When she was through, one child said, "Well, I don't know where that is. I'm going to the beach." We need to relax with the way children see the world, even if it is a very magical-- and oftentimes very literal-interpretation of what they see. We don't need to hurry them along.

ECT: Please tell us one of your favorite stories about children and the way they view the world.

Zavitkovsky: Here's a wonderful story. Sasha's dad had been reading her stories about dreams. In the middle of the night, Sasha went to her parents' bed and got in between them. When they got up in the morning, the mother saw that Sasha had on her swimming suit, pajamas, jeans, and parka. Mom said, "Why do you have all those clothes on?" Sasha replied, "Because I just want to be ready to go wherever my dreams take me."

ECT: What can we as teachers do to keep creative thinking alive in young children?

Zavitkovsky: The teacher sets the stage, she's the facilitator. Her role is to provide the kind of environment that makes what creativity there is in the child manifest itself. She can do this through the physical environment she sets up, the materials she offers, the books she makes available, the curriculum she develops. I think Eleanor Roosevelt put it very well. She said that the most important ingredients in a young child's education are curiosity, interest, imagination, and a sense of the adventure of life's opportunities-wide in range.

Docia Zavitkovsky, spent 39 years as director of the Santa Monica Unified Schools Children's Centers and 20 years as an instructor of child development at Santa Monica College. She is past president of NAEYC, served on the National Advisory Board for Early Childhood Today, and is currently working to support legislation which furthers the quality of early childhood education.