How can we teach our children to think creatively?

go At the foot of this article you will find the answers to the quiz I set in my last post.

follow url When highly creative people are asked for the secrets of their success their responses can often be summarized with these words: learn from others and work hard. This response may seem counterintuitive, because we tend to ascribe the achievement of creative thinkers and doers in all disciplines to their superior intellect, flashes of genius or innate talent. Certainly, superior intellect and great talent are a blessing, but alone they are not enough. Nobody, however intelligent or highly skilled, ever achieved creative greatness by accident.

Most of us do not aspire to the prominence of the people quoted in my quiz. Nevertheless, they set an example to us all. They should inspire every teacher and every parent to help their children succeed at school and in life.

maxalt wafers price The passion that has driven great teachers over the centuries is the belief that all children can and will succeed. These teachers never place limits – in any subject or skill – on what their students may achieve. They believe, like Mozart and Pele, that practice makes perfect, that we can always learn from others, and that hard work pays off. In recent years this belief has increasingly been vindicated by research into the capacity of the human brain to grow throughout and beyond childhood, and by evidence of specific ways in which children and adults best learn. As our children and grandchildren grow up in a world where they will need to complement, and probably compete with, the growth of artificial intelligence and other as yet unknown circumstances, they will need to be equipped with the highest levels of thinking skills. (They will also need a high degree of emotional intelligence, and I will write on this in a future post). Here are a few simple suggestions for the parents and teachers of today’s children:

  • Have high expectations for your child, but express these in a gentle, optimistic way. Your child is likely to accept these expectations for herself and grow into them.
  •  Give your child room to experiment and express her curiosity, in whatever bizarre way these endeavors may manifest themselves!
  • Show interest in what your child likes to do. Ask about the book she is reading, attend the basketball games she plays in, suggest she invites her friends round to your home.
  • Encourage your child to ask questions, then more questions, and keep on asking questions! A child’s questions are far more important than her answers. Albert Einstein’s mother famously knew this when every day she would ask her son, “What good questions did you ask in school today?” He grew up to ask some very important questions indeed.
  • Ask your child questions that lead her thinking up through the levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (refer to my post of May 28th). Don’t focus on questions that require a single, ‘correct’ answer. Rather, ask open-ended questions that cause your child to ponder about the nature the physical world and human experience. Questions such as “For what reasons do you think…?”, or “How would you assess the importance of…?”, or, “How could you solve this problem…?”, or “What if…?” Don’t worry – there are lots of possible answers to these questions and you don’t have to be an expert!
  • Encourage your child to make connections. Lead their thinking onwards from concrete topics and facts towards broad underlying concepts. For example, after watching a film together ask her what other films or books it reminds her of. You may be surprised where the conversation will take you both. (Refer to my post of May 14th).
  •  Remember that creative thinking is not an unreachable goal. It is simply the next level up from critical thinking. It means evaluating existing knowledge in an area of personal passion and taking it to a new level that is interesting and useful for yourself and others. It could be making a new computer app, writing a new workplace policy, or devising a new way of hitting a free kick in soccer. Or it could be finding a new way of bringing your local community together for a common purpose.

In ways like this we can help give our children a good start in life, a start that will enable them to achieve what Abraham Maslow called ‘self-actualization’. They will not all grow up to create a new mathematical theorem or the next great fashion in shoes, but they will find a deep sense of fulfilment.

Thank you

Next time: The importance of teaching your child resilience.

Answers to the quiz:

1.     f           W. A. Mozart              Classical composer

2.     d          Vera Wang                  Fashion designer

3.     h          Pablo Picasso              Artist

4.     a          Maya Angelou            Writer and civil rights activist

5.     e          Pele                                  Footballer

6.     g          Bill Gates                     Technologist and philanthropist

7.     c          Thomas Edison           Inventor and businessman

8.     b          Isaac Newton              Mathematician and physicist

What is creative thinking?

The premise underlying my current series of articles is that if we are to prepare our children for a very uncertain future then we must equip them with some important attributes. I have already written about two of these attributes or “educational impacts”, namely the ability to think at a conceptual level, and the ability to think critically.

This week I am introducing another attribute that will help all children thrive in the years ahead: the ability to think creatively.

Somehow, many of us view creative thinking as separate from other kinds of thinking and we regard it as a special gift that is given only to a talented few. We often make deprecating comments about ourselves, such as “I’m not very creative” or even about others including our own children when we say, “I don’t think my son is a very creative person.”

I think these comments are based upon two common misunderstandings about the nature of creative thinking. First, it is often assumed that creative thinking is only about the arts: we think of creative people as painters and musicians, actors and singers. This is not true. Great advances in all areas of human endeavor – the sciences, technology, sports, business, mathematics, product design and so forth – are predicated upon the creative thinking of people working in those fields. Creative thinking is to be found in every walk of life, not just the arts.

The second misunderstanding is that creative thinking is the same as imaginative thinking, the product of a sudden flash of inspiration that most of us will never experience. I certainly do not agree with that definition! To understand why, please refer back to my post dated May 28th. In that article I describe Bloom’s taxonomy of thinking skills, which shows “creating” as the highest level of thinking. Notice that although “creating” is at the top of the ladder of thinking skills, it is nevertheless on the same ladder as those other thinking skills. It is not set apart, out of reach of most of us. Like the other skills, it is achievable by everyone through their own efforts and, equally important, it can be taught in schools and supported by parents. It is surely no coincidence that the most creative people are also extremely hard-working and willing to learn from others!

In support of my thesis that creative thinking can be achieved through hard work and learning from others, I now call upon some very famous, and very creative, witnesses. They all have something to say about the nature of creative thinking, and they should know! Just for fun, see if you can match each quotation to the faces below…

1.     “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”

2.     “Don’t be afraid to take time to learn. It’s good to work for other people. I worked for others for 20 years.”

3.     “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.”

4.     “Nothing will work unless you do.”

5.     “Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do.”

6.     “I have never met the guy who doesn’t know how to multiply who created software.”

7.     “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”

8.     “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”


a                 b              c  

d                  e            f      

g            h    

None of these people relied on flashes of inspiration in order to reach their creative heights. Rather, they achieved success through working exceptionally hard at what they loved to do. So … who said what? Answers on June 28th!

Finally, for today, here is a working definition of creative thinking: it is the ability to take existing knowledge and develop it further to make products or ideas that are new and which have value or usefulness*.

If that is what we mean by creative thinking, how can we ensure that our children can achieve it? That will be the topic of my next post.

Thank you.

Next time: How can we teach our children to think creatively?

*This definition is derived from the work of two writers and speakers on the topic of creativity: Sir Ken Robinson and Kim Kyung Hee.