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ResilienC - Issue 29, 2015

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” ~ Pablo Picasso  

Researchers say we're born with the capacity for creativity, but the older we get, the less creative most of us become.

So, how do we support children's creativity so that they remain creative throughout life?

Defining creativity

Defining creativity is not easy. Caroline Sharp from the National Foundation for Educational Research in the United Kingdom says most theorists now agree that creativity has a number of components such as: imagination, originality, productivity (ability to generate a variety of different ideas through divergent thinking), problem solving (the application of knowledge and imagination to a given situation) and the ability to produce an outcome of some value/worth.

Three myths about creativity

Myth 1: Creativity is something you have or don’t have – Traditionally, creativity has been viewed as belonging to an extraordinary group of people – a select group of artists, musicians, scientists, etc. like Picasso and Einstein. Focusing on them perpetuates the myth that some people are creative and others aren’t. Current thinking tends to broaden the definition to include the creative acts of ordinary people in many fields and environments.

Myth 2: Creativity can’t be learned – Research shows that creativity can be learned. It’s like any other skill. It takes practice and willingness to try. According to a meta-analysis on 70 studies by Scott, Leritz, and Mumford at the University of Oklahoma, creativity training is effective and positively related to divergent thinking, problem solving, performance, attitudes and behaviors.

Myth 3: Rewards increase creativity – Faculty at the London School of Economics looked at 51 studies about pay-for-performance plans in businesses. They found that financial incentives can backfire. If a task called for even the most basic cognitive skills, larger rewards led to poorer performance. However, if tasks required mechanical skill only, then rewards did improve performance.

Some interesting research about creativity

  • Creativity uses both divergent and convergent thinking
    Divergent thinking helps us to generate alternatives and convergent thinking helps us find a solution for a particular problem. Both work together to advance our creativity. Creativity involves ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ thinking using both left and right hemispheres of our brain. These combine to produce the ability to generate alternatives and evaluate outcomes

  • Children's creativity has declined over the past 30 years
    Professor Kyung Hee Kim, at William and Mary College, has been analyzing data from Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT) administered to children from kindergarten to Grade 12 for several decades. The TTCT has been shown to be a very strong predictor of real-world achievements – better than IQ or high school grades.

    Kim says that all aspects of creativity declined from 1984 to 2008, especially the "creative elaboration test" which shows the ability to take an idea and expand upon it in an interesting and novel way. This score fell more than one standard deviation in every age group. That means that 85% of children in 2008 did worse than the average child in 1984. These findings, among others, have called into question current trends of overscheduling children, reducing free play time, introducing academics to increasingly younger children and educational systems that reward convergent thinking.

  • Babies are very creative
    Professor Alison Gopnik, at the University of California-Berkeley, says that "Babies are little scientists." "They are the R&D; adults are like the marketing folks."  Listen to Dr. Gopnik speak about babies’ brains and learning (What do babies think?). It’s guaranteed to make you think differently about babies, their capabilities and creativity. (You also might want to add her book, The Philosophical Baby, to your list of “must reads.”)

  • Daydreaming and creativity are linked
    At the University of Pennsylvania, Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD says creative people appear to be able to control the connection between nighttime dreaming and daydreaming. Both of these dream states involve the brain's “default network” which is active during our rest periods. During the day, we rely on our “working memory network.” People with higher activity levels in their default network during rest tend to daydream more. The key to functional creativity seems to be the ability to keep one's stream of consciousness “on call” (a function of our default network) while being able to concentrate on a task using our “working memory network.”

  • Specific type of meditation can promote creative thinking
    University of Leiden professor, Dr. Lorenza Colzato, has demonstrated that “open monitoring,” as opposed to “focused attention,” meditation is most supportive of divergent thinking and creativity. In open monitoring meditation the individual is receptive to all sensations. The point is to let go of any effort to focus so that we become more aware of all the different sensations that arrive in our brain – ones which have not entered into consciousness because they've been screened out.

How creativity and resilience fit together

The core competencies which build our capacity for resilience also help lay the foundation for creativity. When we’re able to control our stress level, then distress and confusion decrease. Our minds become clearer and creativity and performance increase.

Self-regulation, flexible thinking, imagination, problem solving, self-mastery, empathy, positive outlook and meaning making are vital to resilience and creativity.

Resilience supports our creativity, and creativity helps us respond with resilience to life’s challenges and to heal from adversity.

How we can become more creative

"The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt."  ~ Sylvia Plath

For the past 13 years, RIRO has been helping service providers and parents be the best role models they can be for children under the age of 8. Here are some ways you can increase your own creativity and role model it with children around you:

  • Develop a "could-be" attitude – overcome the belief that "I am not creative." Be curious, wonder how things work, play with ideas, practice not knowing, face fears and be proactive.
  • Set aside some time each week to pursue creative outlets. We can all learn to be more creative. It’s like any skill – it gets better with practice. And as we practice, our confidence grows, too.
  • Be in nature – open your senses to the sights, sounds, smells, textures around you. Pause and note what comes through each of your senses.
  • Slow down your "active" brain
    • Allow yourself to daydream.
      Upon awakening, take some deep breaths. Keep your eyes closed and let your mind wander (this helps you stay in your "default network" a little longer). Many people find this a peak time for coming up with new ideas as well as solutions to nagging problems. Another time many people find themselves able to daydream is in the afternoon when we tend to get a bit sleepy. Just take 5-10 minutes to relax and let your mind wander.
    • Listen to this sound track when you want to increase your creativity. Some research suggests that binaural beats and isochronic tone frequencies between 3 to 18Hz (in our theta and beta brain wave ranges) may help us be more relaxed and creative.
  • Re-think your thinking
    Develop your divergent, flexible thinking skills. Question your assumptions – ask: "Is there another way to look at this?" Play some mind-tickling games like trying to think of as many different uses for common everyday items as you can. Or name as many words as you can that rhyme or sound alike.

How creative are you?

Check out this this quiz to find out more about your creativity.

How you can help children build their creativity

"Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try" ~Dr. Seuss

General Tips

  • Offer kids the freedom to play – children are creative, little scientists.
  • Give children some time away from caregiver-managed activities so they can play by themselves or just "be."
  • Insist children have time away from electronic media.
  • Recognize that neatness is over-rated. Let children get dirty and make "manageable" messes.
  • Observe and notice children’s interests – look for sparks to ignite.
  • Encourage curiosity about the natural and man-made worlds around them.
  • Help children exercise their imaginations – encourage making up stories, engaging in pretend play, dressing up in old dress-up clothes, taking walks in nature, etc.
  • Encourage creativity by showing more interest and encouragement for "effort" as opposed to "results."
  • Avoid external rewards for creativity – these can interfere with creativity and decrease output.
  • Give children the freedom to fail – mistakes are OK and help us grow. Help kids by asking what they learned this time or what they might do differently next time.
  • Realize that creativity often grows out of boredom or frustration.
  • Reframe problems as opportunities.
  • Answer questions with open-ended questions – What do you think? How do you think this works? What else can you do with this?
  • Encourage autonomy, mastery and sense of purpose (author Dan Pink’s recipe for building greater creativity in the workplace).
Role Model Creativity

Show kids that you:
  • Are curious
  • Use flexible thinking to solve problems (Say your problem-solving steps "out loud" so kids can listen to your flexible thinking in action.)
  • Fix broken things yourself, whenever possible
  • Look for new ways to do things
  • Cook, try new recipes and experiment with your own creations
  • Look to nature for inspiration
  • Express your own creativity – crafts, writing, drawing/painting, music, singing, movement, solving problems, etc.
  • Take care of yourself by eating right, sleeping enough and doing things to relax and revive (e.g., mindfulness meditation).


  • Provide creative materials and a clear space for children to paint, draw, make things, etc. (a small space in a corner is fine).
  • Create a home/school "gallery" to show off children’s creations.
  • Read! Read! Read! Point out when characters are being creative. Ask children, what else could a character do/say to solve this problem? Or what do they think he might be feeling?
  • Sing, dance, make noise, paint, draw.
  • Provide everyday objects for kids to make sounds – create a rhythm band – every child is a musician.
  • Awaken children’s creativity – visit parks, public gardens, libraries, museums and art galleries, public concerts, festivals with street musicians/performers, etc.
  • Explore different places around your neighbourhood and community.
  • Do fun activities that promote creativity (e.g., finding all the ways you can walk from one area in the house/apt. to another; finding as many uses as you can for common household items, e.g., paper towel roll, toilet paper, paper clip, etc.).
  • Cook together.
  • Make sure children eat a healthy diet and get plenty of rest. Practice techniques together (like mindfulness or meditation) to reduce stress and improve focus and attention as well as increase imagination and creativity.

Resources to help you support creativity in children around you

"Creativity is contagious, pass it on."  ~ Albert Einstein

  • Download our latest poster. Just like smiling, creativity is contagious. Pass it on! Kids working together can come up with awesome ideas.
  • Here are some children’s books chosen by teachers because they are very creative books or showcase characters who use their creativity and problem-solving skills to reach solutions.
  • Check out the chapter on Let’s make a story in our Resiliency Guidebook (pp. 42-45). It offers tips and questions you can use to help children develop more flexible thinking.

Send us a brief story about your experiences of being creative with the kids in your life. If your story is chosen for an upcoming issue, we’ll send you a book gift as our thank you!


Upcoming RIRO Training

Reaching IN...Reaching OUT will host the following training events in TORONTO:

12-hour RIRO Resiliency Skills Training
(for frontline & leaders) 
Jul. 6 & 7, 2015
More Information
5-day RIRO Trainer "Intensive"
(for trainers who offer training to service providers)
Sept. 28 – Oct. 2, 2015
More Information

Reaching IN…Reaching OUT (RIRO) is dedicated to helping young children and adults around them develop their resilience. We welcome your comments and suggestions. Contact us.

Reaching IN…Reaching OUT is pleased to acknowledge The Child & Family Partnership, our founding sponsor.

RIRO’s parent pilot project as well as RIRO’s original research and product development were made possible through project funding from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnership Program. Funding for the development of RIRO’s Trainer "Intensive” program and ResilienC came from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. The opinions and interpretations in RIRO resources are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada or the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

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