Creative Thinking During Childhood
Creative thinking in children is both like and different from that of adults. It is alike in that children “have experiences that are similar in complexity, challenge, and creativity to those of creative experts” (Caine & Caine, 1996, p. 117). It is different in terms of experience and style. Mature individuals’ creative processes and products emphasize expertise, which involves the technical skill, artistic ability, talent, or knowledge of useful information that they bring to whatever they produce, and work habits, which include work style, concentration and persistence, the ability to generate new possibilities, and openness to new ideas (Amabile, 1983; Kohn, 1987). Children obviously have less experience than adults and therefore less expertise, and their work styles are less well developed. But whatever children may lack in terms of expertise or style, they more than compensate for in their unique ways of thinking and approaching a task. Here is what Caitlin, a 31/2-year-old, says out loud as she draws a picture. Notice Caitlin’s vivid imagination as she describes the pictures she draws as well as her lack of inhibition about revealing her thoughts:
I’m makin’ a butterfly. This is grass, this green stuff is grass. I’m making a bridge this time. The butterfly’s gonna go over the bridge—under the bridge, I mean . . . Now I’ll make myself. I need some pink. Hmm, no pink. (she chooses a red crayon) I’ll just have to color light if I want to make some pink. There, that’s my honker (nose). This is my hair. I’m going to make some hair. There I am! (she smiles) I want black. Purple will do. I have some blush on—there! Ha-ha! I’ll have to make a sidewalk here. Those are drainers (drains), like little logs. (in a singsong voice) I need a blue log log, blue log, blue log log. Can you make a flower, Caitlin? Blue will do it! Blue water. See, this is a log. I forgot to make the sunshine. I’ll pretend this is Rudolph (the Red-Nosed Reindeer). Sunshine. There! Now I’m going to make an elephant . . .
As the preceding glimpse of Caitlin’s thinking suggests, children excel at three characteristics thought to be related to creative genius: sensitivity to internal and external stimuli, lack of inhibition, and the ability to become completely absorbed in an activity (Holden, 1987). In other words, creative thought is simultaneously serious and playful (Rea, 2001).
Marina, a 3-year-old, is a good example of a child with sensitivity to stimuli. She was at a very important gathering where the bishop of her Greek Orthodox church was visiting the congregation. All of the adults were a bit intimidated and felt awkward; Marina “broke the ice” by walking up to the bishop and asking, “Do you know how to color? Would you like to draw pictures with me?” Marina seemed to sense that welcoming the bishop was important; she used her knowledge of how to make friends in a way that the entire congregation still remembers fondly.
Keiko, a 4-year-old, revealed his spontaneity and lack of inhibition during a testing situation. When the examiner asked him whether he was “very happy, happy, not very happy, a little sad, or very sad,” Keiko said, “Happy!”, whirled around, took the pen from the examiner, and circled the smiley face on the test form himself. Like Keiko, most children are less self-conscious and freer in their responses than adults would be in a similar situation.
Lauren exemplifies the child’s complete absorption in an activity. She has created an imaginary friend named “Mousie,” and before her family travels anywhere, she lifts the gas tank door and puts her hand, palm up, next to the opening so that Mousie can crawl inside. Lauren talks aloud to her imaginary pet and gives him instructions on how to behave, completely unconcerned that anyone might overhear her.
As the behavior of Marina, Keiko, and Lauren illustrates, children can become totally absorbed in pretending. They surprise us by their sensitivity, spontaneity, and playfulness. Because they are newer to the world, their sensory impressions are particularly keen. These characteristics lead us to seek careers working with young children and endear them to us as adults. Of all the characteristics that children manifest through behavior, perhaps none is more charming than their world of make-believe, the world of imagination and fantasy that we will explore next.
© ______ 2006, Merrill, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.
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