Embrace Creativity

What happens when your imagination runs wild
Me circa 1995. What happens when your imagination runs wild

(Post inspired by this TED Talk)

My crazy, creative childhood shaped who I am

I was a pretty creative and quirky kid. My parents tended to give me a lot of free reign. I spent my time as a child creating my own games to play, both by myself and with friends. I would build an entire city out of Legos and then create stories about all the characters living there. I would take a bucket of soapy water, a butterfly net, and use the wind blowing out of my air conditioning unit to create a “bubble kingdom” in my backyard. I built endless forts out of sheets and blankets. I figured out that I could use an old broom handle to “row” my wagon across my back yard, turning it into a boat.

As I grew up, I stayed quirky and I kept creating. I took drawing and painting and drama in high school. I knitted up a storm through college, I dabbled in graphic design in grad school. I learned how to sew and starting altering my own clothes.

I may not make tons of money today, but I am very happy. And I think a lot of that has to do with the freedom to be creative that I had growing up. My parents let me make mistakes. Some of them were pretty rough. But I learned from them, and my life has been fuller because of them.

Me circa 1997. LEGOs can teach you to think creatively, problem solve, engineer. And they’re fun.

Schools often hamper students creativity

In so many ways, we hamper our students creativity. They must use this font, at that size only. They can only make their project as a Word document. They have to bubble in A,B,C or D, there is no room for an “other”.

Our students aren’t free to make mistakes – when someone gives a wrong answer (or even just an odd one), everyone else laughs. We brush over the laughter and move on.  We don’t accept creative thinking – students must come up with the answers that we want them to have.  And while some structure is necessary, too much of it will kill creativity in our students.

Students need to be able to think critically. They need to be able to innovate, to come up with new ideas. They can’t get by in life simply taking multiple choice exams. In a world where degrees mean less and less, students need much more than booksmarts to make it. We need to free our students to be creative – it has to be okay for them to make mistakes.

8th graders creating with K'nex
8th graders creating with K’nex as part of our Makerspace

Practical Steps We Can Take

  • We can mix art and creativity into our lessons (hello Makerspaces!).  If students are learning about cells, let them create a diagram out of Legos.  If they’re learning about how different ancient civilizations created shelters, let them draw them or make them out of clay.  Let students podcast, create videos, put together interactive collages.
  • When students have free time in the library, give them a pile of art supplies and let them make something just for the heck of it.  You’ll be amazed.
  • Add creativity into your programs.  Got a reading incentive party?  Let students make duct tape wallets!   Bookfair family night?  Have parents and students work on a craft project together.
  • Recognize the different types of intelligence that Robinson talked about. Not all kids are booksmart, but that doesn’t mean we should value their intelligence any less.  Some of my students are horrible with the Dewey Decimal system, but ask them to create a display, and it’s amazing. Others lack on the people skills, but can quickly debug problems on the computers.

Give kids the room to let their imaginations run wild, and great things will happen.  They just have to know that it’s okay first.

What are you doing to encourage creativity in your students?