The Creativity of a Child

My grand daughter Violet (aged five years) is now in her first year of school. She has begun to learn maths and her teacher involved her class by using a worksheet that required the children to work out some addition equations such as 8+6=14 and 5+3=8. Violet then had to create two more equations to demonstrate her understanding of this concept of addition. What she did surprised everyone! Her young mind created two equations where sun + rain = a rainbow and sun + flowers = spring time. Her teacher was very impressed with her creativity, as were we all.

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I always think that children’s creativity and imagination is wonderful. Imaginative concepts and play are an important part of the development of cognitive ability. To a child, a cardboard tube can be a telescope, a rocket launcher or anything else they imagine. Dolls and toy trucks become important elements in their world of make believe play. If only this ability to imagine and be creative could continue on into their adult years. Think of the possibilities for problem solving if adults could think as laterally as adding sun and rain to make a rainbow!

Instead, much of our creativity gets beaten out of us as we go through school and then work in organisations. I think this happens for a number of reasons:

1. School curriculums are generally based around teaching students to ‘pass the test’, not to solve problems creatively, How to reach a certain result is the goal. Education outcomes have to be measurable and therefore standardised tests are an important way of judging the abilities of students and effectiveness of schools.

2. Unless one works for one of the few progressive organisations in our business community, success comes from following an operating manual – not from imagining possibilities and being innovative. The McDonalds Restaurant chain is a good example of this. They don’t want employees to experiment with their menu or try to create new products. Their success comes from producing a standardised product through following a replicable and structured process.

3. In our society, mistakes are often seen as being wrong and something to be feared. We need to make sure that kids mistakes don’t lead to dangerous consequences but we do need to allow them as doors to discovery – things they can learn from.

4. As a result, It becomes hard to accept diverse approaches and differences as anything but being wrong. Rather, we need to see others ideas and approaches more as alternatives. Then we can really consider them for the creative value that they may offer. This is a real challenge for leaders in all of areas of business, government and the community and an issue that I wrestled with over many years in my consulting work.

Oh, to be as young as Violet again and to have an environment that allows, if not fosters, imagination and curiosity.