One of the most astonishing privileges of being an adult is to observe the creativity of children with the insight of maturity. I recently had the giddy pleasure of watching several pre-school aged girls gathering grasses, leaves, ferns, etc to create dolls. Their mothers shrugged in bewilderment about where the idea had come from. As I watched them I noticed one child was particularly resourceful; she was not the oldest or the most clearly spoken but had rallied troops to her cause with her determination. In an attempt to engage and discover her inspiration I tried to help with the gathering process. She had a very specific selecting process which I could not discern but was very clear to her mind and most my efforts were examined carefully to be accepted or rejected with a finality that would make Sir Alan Sugar proud. It soon became apparent as my time with this group of children lengthened that this particular toddler was delightfully, startlingly creative. Having a conversation with her challenged my brain keeping up with her leaps in topic and relevance, and clearly many of the games played were of her invention.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that there are two motivations for creative behaviours: that of exploration and invention and to acquire comfort, pleasure and relaxation which revitalises daily life for the creative individual. I have often wondered if adult intervention in children’s activities tends to stifle creativity as we will (as humans) repeat the things we’re most exposed to and many adults have set patterns of behaviour and thinking long established. As an example of this in our home we have no television and get all our access to TV programming via internet players and DVD rentals; in our experience a TV show/ film/ etc. exposure tends to limit our children’s variety of creative play. We have bought toys which tie in with children’s shows (Bob the Builder comes to mind) which were endlessly and creatively employed until the TV show itself was seen and suddenly the context of the toys became clear and they were only played with in specific frameworks and Bob no longer played the role of Café owner, Cowboy, or Zoo Keeper… he was Bob, the builder. The observation of this human behaviour of imitation of the things we are exposed to is so ancient it is mentioned in the Bible in 1 Corinthians 15:33 where the disciples of Jesus were advised to avoid evil company as it would corrupt your own behaviour and again in Phillipians 4:8 where they are advised to dwell on only good things.
Part of our home life is the encouragement of creative thinking. At the younger children’s age it can be as simple as storytelling. More often we encourage the children to think about motivations of the characters in stories they read, or to think of an alternative way of working out a maths problem. I would argue however that the most important aspect of encouraging the children’s creativity is in actively fostering an attitude of observance and insight in the everyday. We try to explore our surroundings (home, wilderness, human interactions) with our eyes wide- viewing details with curiosity and thoughtfulness. I hope that by creating the space for creativity my children to look at the world perceptively and enable them to find an endless well of peace and reflectivity.