ERIC Identifier: ED306008
Publication Date: 1988-00-00
Author: Moran, James D., III
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL.
Creativity in Young Children. ERIC Digest.
The precursors of adult creativity are clearly evident in young children.
This digest explores factors that affect creativity in children and techniques
for fostering this quality. The need to study creativity, and the definition of
creativity within a developmental framework, are also discussed.
WHY STUDY CREATIVITY IN YOUNG CHILDREN?
Just as all
children are not equally intelligent, all children are not equally creative. But
just as all children exhibit behaviors which evidence intelligence from birth,
they also exhibit behaviors which evidence the potential for creativity.
Creativity is essentially a form of problem-solving. But it is a special type
of problem-solving--one that involves problems for which there are no easy
answers: that is, problems for which popular or conventional responses do not
work. Creativity involves adaptability and flexibility of thought. These are the
same types of skills that numerous reports on education (e.g., the Carnegie
Report, 1986) have suggested are critical for students.
WHAT IS CREATIVITY?
Creativity has been considered in terms
of process, product or person (Barron and Harrington, 1981) and has been defined
as the interpersonal and intrapersonal process by means of which original, high
quality, and genuinely significant products are developed. In dealing with young
children, the focus should be on the process, i.e., developing and generating
original ideas, which is seen as the basis of creative potential. When trying to
understand this process, it is helpful to consider Guilford's (1956)
differentiation between convergent and divergent thought. Problems associated
with convergent thought often have one correct solution. But problems associated
with divergent thought require the problem-solver to generate many solutions, a
few of which will be novel, of high quality, and workable--hence creative.
For a proper understanding of children's creativity, one must distinguish
creativity from intelligence and talent. Ward (1974) expressed concern about
whether creativity in young children could be differentiated from other
cognitive abilities. More recent studies (for example, Moran and others, 1983)
have shown that components of creative potential can indeed be distinguished
from intelligence. The term "gifted" is often used to imply high intelligence.
But Wallach (1970) has argued that intelligence and creativity are independent
of each other, and a highly creative child may or may not be highly intelligent.
Creativity goes beyond possession and use of artistic or musical talent. In
this context, talent refers to the possession of a high degree of technical
skill in a specialized area. Thus an artist may have wonderful technical skills,
but may not succeed in evoking the emotional response that makes the viewer feel
that a painting, for example, is unique. It is important to keep in mind that
creativity is evidenced not only in music, art, or writing, but throughout the
curriculum, in science, social studies and other areas.
Most measures of children's creativity have focused on ideational fluency.
Ideational fluency tasks require children to generate as many responses as they
can to a particular stimulus, as is done in brainstorming. Ideational fluency is
generally considered to be a critical feature of the creative process.
Children's responses may be either popular or original, with the latter
considered evidence of creative potential. Thus when we ask four-year-olds to
tell us "all the things they can think of that are red," we find that children
not only list wagons, apples and cardinals, but also chicken pox and cold hands.
For young children, the focus of creativity should remain on process: the
generation of ideas. Adult acceptance of multiple ideas in a non-evaluative
atmosphere will help children generate more ideas or move to the next stage of
self-evaluation. As children develop the ability for self-evaluation, issues of
quality and the generation of products become more important. The emphasis at
this age should be on self-evaluation, for these children are exploring their
abilities to generate and evaluate hypotheses, and revise their ideas based on
that evaluation. Evaluation by others and criteria for genuinely significant
products should be used only with older adolescents or adults.
WHAT AFFECTS THE EXPRESSION OF CREATIVITY?
children, a non-evaluative atmosphere appears to be a critical factor in
avoiding what Treffinger (1984) labels as the "right answer fixation." Through
the socialization process, children move toward conformity during the elementary
school years. The percentage of original responses in ideational fluency tasks
drops from about 50% among four-year-olds to 25% during elementary school, then
returns to 50% among college students (Moran et al., 1983). It is important that
children be given the opportunity to express divergent thought and to find more
than one route to the solution.
Rewards or incentives for children appear to interfere with the creative
process. Although rewards may not affect the number of responses on ideational
fluency tasks, they seem to reduce the quality of children's responses and the
flexibility of their thought. In other words, rewards reduce children's ability
to shift from category to category in their responses (Groves, Sawyers, and
Moran, 1987). Indeed, any external constraint seems to reduce this flexibility.
Other studies have shown that structured materials, especially when combined
with structured instructions, reduce flexibility in four-year-old children
(Moran, Sawyers, and Moore, in press). In one case, structured instructions
consisted only in the demonstration of how to put together a model. Teachers
need to remember that the structure of children's responses is very subtle.
Research suggests that children who appear to be creative are often involved in
imaginative play, and are motivated by internal factors rather than external
factors, such as rewards and incentives.
HOW CAN ADULTS ENCOURAGE CREATIVITY?
* Provide an
environment that allows the child to explore and play without undue restraints.
* Adapt to children's ideas rather than trying to structure the child's ideas
to fit the adult's.
* Accept unusual ideas from children by suspending judgement of children's
* Use creative problem-solving in all parts of the curriculum. Use the
problems that naturally occur in everyday life.
* Allow time for the child to explore all possibilities, moving from popular
to more original ideas.
* Emphasize process rather than product.
Adults can encourage creativity by emphasizing
the generation and expression of ideas in a non-evaluative framework and by
concentrating on both divergent and convergent thinking. Adults can also try to
ensure that children have the opportunity and confidence to take risks,
challenge assumptions, and see things in a new way.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Barron, Frank and David M. Harrington. "Creativity, Intelligence and Personality." ANNUAL REVIEW OF PSYCHOLOGY 32
Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. "A Nation Prepared: Teachers for
the 21st Century." Washington, DC: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy,
Groves, Melissa M., Janet K. Sawyers, and James D. Moran, III. "Reward and
Ideational Fluency in Preschool Children." EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 2
Guilford, J.P. "The Structure of Intellect." PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN 53
Moran, James D. III, Roberta M. Milgrim, Janet K. Sawyers, and Victoria R.
Fu. "Original Thinking in Preschool Children." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 54 (1983):
Moran, James D. III, Janet K. Sawyers, and Amy J. Moore. "The Effects of
Structure in Instructions and Materials on Preschoolers' Creativity." HOME
ECONOMICS RESEARCH JOURNAL 17 (1988): 148-152.
Treffinger, Donald J. "Creative Problem-Solving for Teachers." Lecture
delivered to Project Interact Spring Conference, Radford, VA, April, 1984.
Wallach, Michael A. "Creativity." In CARMICHAEL'S MANUAL OF CHILD PSYCHOLOGY,
VOL. 1, edited by P.H. Mussen. New York: Wiley, 1970.
Ward, William C. "Creativity in Young Children." JOURNAL OF CREATIVE BEHAVIOR
8 (1974): 101-106.