8 Ways to Crush Creative Thinking in Children

We want our kids to be creative, and yet, often without thinking about it, we do the very things that destroy it. Encouraging creativity requires tolerance, patience, openness, and acceptance. Busy teachers and overwhelmed parents are often short on these qualities. However, sometimes, all it takes is a little reminder. So, if you catch yourself doing any of these things, ask yourself if there isn't another way to accomplish a similar goal.
  1. Discouraging Questions Creative kids ask a lot of questions. A question that seems silly to an adult may be important in the thought process of a kid. Take kids' questions seriously.
  2. Answering Questions Taking a child's question seriously does not necessarily mean answering it. Only answer questions if the child cannot find the answer on her own. Often a child will ask a question that he can figure out himself if he just spends a few minutes thinking. Or he can use a resource (besides you) to find the answer. Consider answering the question with a question: What do you think? Where could you find the answer?
  3. Over Structuring When every moment of the day is filled with an activity, there is no time to think and reflect. To be alone with one's thoughts. To pursue an idea.
  4. Not Allowing for Choice When teachers give the same assignment to everyone in a class with no room for choice or variation, children learn to jump through hoops and do what is expected. Great for passing those standardized tests, not so great for thinking creatively.
  5. Accepting Only One Right Way Whether it is loading the dishwasher or solving a word problem, children need to be allowed to do things in their own way. When we make one way right and all other ways wrong, we lose the chance to explore options to find what works best for each individual.
  6. Giving an Example Examples promote lazy thinking. I once had a job where I gave science presentations in elementary classrooms. Sometimes the teacher would have the kids write thank you notes. I could always tell when an example had been given by the teacher. The letters were similar. The students picked out the same things to say that they had enjoyed, asked the same questions, signed off the same way. However, when an example wasn't given, the letters varied quite a bit, with kids coming up with all kinds of interesting things to write about.
  7. Discouraging Ideas Kids get all kinds of ideas about things they would like to try. Some of them, we as adults know, won't work. And so we tell them, shooting down their idea, and their enthusiasm and confidence along with it. Better to ask questions and encourage exploration. Most likely, the child will discover the flaws on her own. She may tweak it until she comes up with something that will work. She may try and fail. All good experiences that, with encouragement, the child can learn from. In any case, discovering that an idea will not work on your own can be oddly empowering, while having someone else tell you why your idea won't work, never is.
  8. Too Much Screen Time TV, Social Networking, Youtube, Video Games etc. all zap creativity. Limit the time your child spends doing that stuff. Yes, they need to be digitally literate. Yes, the computer is a great tool, and there are many ways to use it to be creative. But there is also a lot to be gained from real experiences and real human interaction.


Anonymous said...

Very nice article.
I had not thought of examples as anti-creative before reading here.

- Sid

Travis said...

Not allowing choices is definitely one of the easiest ways to squash creative thinking. When everyone thinks alike, to the child it becomes more of a chore to see how quickly they can finish the assignment as opposed to retaining creative input and seeing what they can do with their brain.

Rachel Lynette said...

Thanks for your input. Yes, the lack of choice is one of my frustrations with many classroom assignments that my kids bring home. So often the same goal (writing a 5 paragraph essay, for example) could be met with more choices, which would result in more motivated students, which would result in higher quality work (and more creativity) - so seems like a no brainer.

Angela said...

Excellent post. Steven Spielberg's mother let him pour cherry juice all over the kitchen cabinets so that he could film a gore-filled scene as a child. Enough said.

Loreen Leedy said...

A great list, everyone who works with kids should read it. I would add "Criticizing children's work using adult standards." Too many adults dish out blunt criticism as if a child's creation should be as good as one made by an older child or adult. Very discouraging!

Rachel Lynette said...

Oh, good one, Loreen! Thanks for adding that.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the point about giving examples. I've been battling against the belief that it is right to give examples because it "structures children's thought". Modelling and giving examples are different. There is nothing creative about filling in a template with gaps for your own words - limiting and demoralising. Better to scribe children's ideas if they are struggling writers, at least it shows you value their ideas.

amber said...

It's always made me nervous when teachers give kids tickets to limit the number of questions they ask per day. It's "to make them decide if the question is important." Except...does it? What if they pick the wrong question? Of course we don't want our discussions completely derailed with "What time is lunch," but I've never used those tickets.

Hilary Lewis said...

I am going to share a link to this post on my blog...I so totally agree with all of it! Thanks for sharing Rachel.

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I am Bullyproof Music - Lessia Bonn said...

Having grown up in a world of classical musicians and traditional music teachers, oh how this article resonates. I can't tell you have many kids have said to me "You don't remind me of a music teacher at all. Music teachers are always mean. You're fun!" By slamming the door on a child's creativity we not only stifle a beautiful young spirit, we often turn Johnny off from ever loving what we obviously love or we wouldn't be teaching it. Your comments are not just full of truth, they are full of soul. Thank you so much. Am pinning on the music page :-)

William Solice said...

You are wrong on number 8

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