Recently, I came across this article from the NEA Journal that was written by James A. Smith from the State University College in Oswego New York. It is a true story....unfortunately.
THE AWFUL BEGINNING
I looked across the desk at my big girl. She'd come for help in planning her semester schedule.
"Look," I said, "you have some electives. Why don't you take a course or two for fun? You've worked hard and really should take something outside your major that will be pleasurable."
"Like what?" she asked.
My eyes scanned the college schedule of courses. "Like Dr. Mann's Creative Writing or Dr. Camp's Painting for Beginners or something like that."
She threw her head back and laughed. "Who, me? Paint or write? Good grief, Dad, you ought to know better than that!"
"And this," I thought, "is the awful ending."
It was not always like this. I remember an early golden September day when I went to my garage studio and gathered together my easel, paintbrushes, and watercolors. I sensed someone was watching me and looked up from my activities to see her framed in silhouette in the doorway. The breeze and the sun tiptoed in the gold of her curls. Her wide blue eyes asked the question, "Whatcha doin'?"
"I'm going to the meadow to paint." I said. "Want to come along?"
"Oh, yes." She bounced on her toes in anticipation.
"Well, go tell Mummy and get your paints."
She was all but returned in no time carrying the caddy I had made to hold her jars of paint and her assortment of brushes.
"Paper?" she asked.
"Yes, I have plenty of paper. Let's go."
She ran down the hill before me, pushing aside the long, soft grasses of the meadow. I watched closely for the fear of losing her golden top in the tops of the goldenrod. She found a deserted meadowlark's nest and we stopped to wonder at it. A rabbit scurried from under our feet. Around us yellow daisies and goldenrod nodded in friendly greeting. Above, the sky was an infinite blue. Beyond the meadow, the lake slapped itself to match the blue of the sky.
On the lake, a single white sailboat tipped joyously in the breeze. My daughter looked up and saw it.
"Here!" she said.
Trusting her wisdom as I always did, I set up our easels. While I deliberated over choice of subject and color, she had no such problem. She painted with abandonment and concentration and I left her alone asking no questions, making no suggestions, simply recognizing uncontaminated creative drive at work.
Before I had really begun, she pulled a painting off her easel.
"There!" she said. "Want to see?" I nodded.
I cannot describe the sense of wonder that flooded over me as I viewed her work. It was all there -- that golden September day. She had captured the sunlight in her spilled yellows, the lake in her choppy, uneven strokes of blue, the trees in her long, fresh strokes of green. And through it all, there was a sense of scudding ships and the joyousness of wind that I experience when I sail, the tilting and swaying of the deck, the pitching of the mast. It was a beautiful and wondrous thing and I envied her ability to interpret so honestly, so uninhibitedly, so freshly.
"Are you going to give it a name?" I suggested.
"Yep! Sailboats!" she responded, as she taped another sheet of paper to the easel. There wasn't even a single sailboat in the picture.
She began school the following week. One dreary November day she came into my study with a sheet of paper in her hand.
"Daddy," she asked, "Will you help me draw a sailboat?"
"Me? Help you draw a sailboat?" My eyes turned to the wall where her golden September painting hung in a frame I had made for it.
"Me? Help you draw a picture of a sailboat? Why, sweetheart, I could never paint a picture like the one over there. Why don't you paint one of your own?"
Her blue eyes looked troubled.
"But, Daddy, Miss Ellis doesn't like my kind of painting."
She held up her sheet of paper in the middle of which was a dittoed triangle.
"Miss Ellis wants us to make a sailboat out of this."
And that was the awful beginning!
Creativity can be defined as breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. It's being able to problem solve in a novel way. We all want our children to be creative. But sometimes as parents, we unknowingly place frequent limits on our children that actually train them to think inside the box. May I suggest a few key points to help our children develop their own measure of creativity.
- Neatness is over-rated. Often, children are afraid to get their hands dirty because they live by too many rules. When children only focus on neatness, they become less creative.
- Focus on the process, not the product. Allow children to receive praise for being engaged in the process, not how quickly they can come up with the product.
- Provide the resources they need for creative expression. The best resources we can provide is time and space for imaginative, child-directed and unstructured play.
- Find creative opportunities that do not entail academic or performance pressure. Children's interests, not what their parents want them to do, should drive the choices.
- Ideas and creations can be flawed. The freedom to experiment, to make mistakes, and to try again is important in fostering a creative spirit. Children should not have to compromise their originality in an effort to meet someone else's expectations.
Smith, J. A. (1972). The Awful Beginning. Today's Education, 61, 4-56.