Can you imagine a world without creativity? Impossible! The creative mind has found cures for diseases, created magnificent art and music, invented countless tools and machines that have made life easier and more comfortable, solved many complex problems facing society, and has brought joy, awe, inspiration and fun into our lives. The essential skill of creativity is, in fact, the first trait attributed to God in the Torah – “In the beginning God created…”
It is because creativity is so fundamental to the human experience that I read with great interest Adam Grant’s recent article in the New York Times, “How to Raise a Creative Child. Step One: Back Off.” Everyone has the potential to have a creative mind – and in our youth, we exude creative expression (drawing on walls, building forts out of blankets). It is only as we age that our innate creativity is suppressed in so many children.
Some of this is due to parents, who desire for their children a high level of mastery of existing skills over creativity. They make their children “practice until perfect,” wrongly thinking they can program their kids to be creative. But the passion has to come from within. Child prodigies rarely become geniuses who change the world – they only master what already exists. Seeking the approval of parents and teachers, children conform, rather than take risks to be original. Instead of killing creativity and originality, Grant says, parents need to back off in order to foster creativity.
The conditions for creativity rarely exist in schools, either, and are more often than not, frowned upon. Schools and classrooms are usually very orderly environments. Schools tend to celebrate the child who conforms to behavioral norms – students who are compliant, good natured, responsible, and tolerant. These same qualities are associated with low levels of creativity. Creative behavior is often viewed as disruptive in the school environment.
Dr. Robert Bilder, a professor of psychology at UCLA, states that creativity requires more. It flourishes on the edge of chaos; that is where creative changes and big shifts occur. The conditions intersect between the pull for order and unpredictability. So when he asked kids which aspects of the learning environment made them feel more creative, they answered an environment that valued freedom to explore, and an environment that did not simply seek right or wrong answers. This came as no surprise to me.
Students are more likely to be able to engage in the creative process in an environment that imposes fewer rules, not more of them! Grant sites a study that reports that children who came from homes with fewer rules, but which also promoted responsibility and moral decision-making, were more likely to be creative.
Children need time and space to be creative. They need to daydream and imagine, to explore and generate ideas. The more ideas that are generated, the better the ideas become. As Sir Ken Robinson has said, imagination is the root of creativity; it brings to mind things that are not present in our senses. This is what leads to innovation.
Humanity needs creative thinkers and problem solvers. We all have the potential to tap the creativity that is within us. The space, environment and conditions have to be right to foster, not suppress, the creative mind both in the home and at school.
While mine is not a scientific study, it comes as no surprise again that when I ask Hillel students about the new learning spaces at Hillel, the overwhelming majority respond in a similar way that the kids did in Dr. Bilder’s study. Creativity is a necessity in today’s world – let’s foster and nurture it in our children!