Creativity in Young Children (page 2)

By — Educational Resource Information Center (U.S. Department of Education)
Updated on Feb 18, 2011

What Affects the Expression of Creativity?

For young 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 divergent problem-solving.
  • 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 (1981): 439-476.

Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. "A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century." Washington, DC: Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, 1986.

Groves, Melissa M., Janet K. Sawyers, and James D. Moran, III. "Reward and Ideational Fluency in Preschool Children." EARLY CHILDHOOD RESEARCH QUARTERLY 2 (1987): 335-340.

Guilford, J.P. "The Structure of Intellect." PSYCHOLOGICAL BULLETIN 53 (1956): 267-293.

Moran, James D. III, Roberta M. Milgrim, Janet K. Sawyers, and Victoria R. Fu. "Original Thinking in Preschool Children." CHILD DEVELOPMENT 54 (1983): 921-926.

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.

ERIC Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. RI88062007. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.

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