Creative Thinking During Childhood (page 3)
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.
Imagination and Fantasy
In the estimation of both experts and lay people, imagination and fantasy are the great creative assets of early childhood. It is common to say that children have “active imaginations,” meaning that the boundaries between reality and fantasy are not as clearly demarcated for children as they are for adults, and imaginative thought comes as readily to the child as literal thought comes to the adult. In fact, experts on creativity have long believed that, for most human beings, imagination peaks during early childhood.
What, exactly, is imagination and why might it be more active early in life? Imagination is defined as the ability to form rich and varied mental images or concepts of people, places, things, and situations that are not present. Kindergartener Mallory has become intrigued by flowers—not just ordinary flowers, but flowers that exist only in her mind’s eye. As she imagines what she calls “an acrobatic flower” and “a flower with pineapple teeth,” Mallory uses both objective thought (what she knows) and intuitive thought (what she feels). In addition, Mallory considers how to communicate her thoughts and feelings to others. Imagination is an “as if” situation (Weininger, 1988, p. 142). Mallory has seen pineapple chunks before; now she draws “as if” they were in the flower’s mouth as teeth. She has seen acrobats on television; now she draws her flower “as if” it had the physical skills of an acrobat. By examining how Mallory has combined apparently unrelated elements in her drawings to produce surprising new forms, we can glimpse her imagination at work.
Fantasy is a subset of imaginative thinking. Fantasy occurs when a person uses the imagination to create particularly vivid mental images or concepts that are make-believe, impossible, or at least not yet possible. Fantasy is a “what if” situation (Weininger, 1988, p. 144). Here is how one mother described her son’s use of fantasy as he created a pretend companion:
My son, who just turned 4, became fascinated by deer. This happened, I think, because while we were visiting friends out in the country, a doe and her fawn came into the yard. Now Scott has created a pretend friend named “Fawnbelly.” His bedroom window faces the front porch, and that, according to my son, is where she sleeps. He feeds her by putting a plastic apple on the windowsill and, in return, she protects him at night. When he talks about Fawnbelly, I can picture this gentle, expectant doe with huge brown eyes keeping watch over our house.
This mother obviously values the vivid imagination and rich fantasy life of her child, and rightly so. Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner (1993a) has described how children are freer in their thinking: “The child is not bothered by inconsistencies, departures from convention, nonliteralness . . . which often results in unusual and appealing juxtapositions and associations” (p. 228). In fact, many adult artists report that they must struggle to get back in touch with those feelings and attitudes of early childhood in order to realize their creative potential. This nonliteral mode of thinking, so prevalent during early childhood, balances and complements literal thinking. As the next section describes, great ideas are produced by applying different modes of thought to a task or problem at various times.
Modes of Thinking
Types of thinking may be broadly categorized as convergent or divergent. The creative process relies on both types in different measures at different times. Take, for instance, the invention of the Post-it note. When 3M employees invented a temporary adhesive, their colleagues—who had devoted their careers to striving for more permanent adhesives—simply could not wrap their minds around a use for it. Still, they approved the team to create some prototypes of the sticky notes and distribute them to the secretaries in the company. It was not until the secretaries were clamoring for more that the value of this item became apparent (Peters & Waterman, 1988). This illustrates the two modes of thinking—convergent (“dig the same hole deeper” and look for more permanent adhesives) and divergent (“dig in another place” and seek a use for a temporary adhesive) (DeBono, 1971).
Creative thought relies on both types of thought, employing them as the situation warrants, and orchestrating them appropriately. The blending of convergent and divergent thought is necessary for problem solving (De Bono, 1992).
© ______ 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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