CREATIVE CHILDREN; Arts Open Young People's Minds to Thinking outside the box.(FAMILY TIMES)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 24, 2002 | Go to article overview
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CREATIVE CHILDREN; Arts Open Young People's Minds to Thinking outside the box.(FAMILY TIMES)


Byline: Karen Goldberg Goff, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Paint and glue, crayons and markers, even scraps of cardboard and an old egg carton that look like everyday junk can become the tools for children's creativity. Children can scribble, paste and pretend before they can articulate effectively and write, so it is important to give youngsters opportunities to express themselves in those ways, says Susan Striker, a Connecticut art teacher and author of the book "Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art."

"It is very crucial to give children opportunities for art in the early years," Ms. Striker says. "It sets for the child a pattern of thinking in creative ways, or not, in thinking, speaking and writing."

Though not every child will end up as another Pablo Picasso, any youngster might find the spark to be anything from a writer to an inventor to a chef if given open-ended opportunities to create, says Carolyn Callahan, a professor of education at the University of Virginia.

"I would say all children are creative on some continuum," says Ms. Callahan, associate director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. "All children are inquisitive, but some are more flexible to new ideas. Unfortunately, we don't know who the creators will be, so we need to encourage creativity in all kids."

In Jane Morrison's Alexandria home, that means letting daughter Eleanor, 6, "make a mess."

"We have paper and pencils all over," Mrs. Morrison says as she drops Eleanor at a weekly art class at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town. "You can't be a neatnik and be creative. I have paint on the walls and markers on the floor. We also play dress-up and read stories. It all fosters the whole creative thing. Everything can't be math and reading."

Creativity generally is defined as productive thinking and looking at things in different ways, says Michael Michalko, author of the book "Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius."

"Creative people have different answers than the way we have been taught to think," Mr. Michalko says. "I like to quote Albert Einstein, who said the difference between your creative genius and the average person is the average person will look for a needle in a haystack, while the creative person will look for all the needles."

Mr. Michalko says all children have the natural instinct to be creative. That is why a refrigerator box can be a spaceship or a dish towel can be a bridal veil.

"If I ask any adult for uses for a brick, he or she can maybe give me eight or nine ideas," he says. "I asked my 10-year-old niece the same question a few months ago, and she is still coming up with suggestions.

"Part of the secret of creativity is quantity," he says. "If you study the 2,000 greatest thinkers, you'll see they all produced incredible numbers of ideas. Thomas Edison applied for more than 1,000 U.S. patents. The creative mind knows no such thing as failure. Edison failed about 9,000 times when he invented the light bulb. His assistant told him to give up. Edison said, 'But I've discovered 9,000 things that don't work.'"

The creative child is the one who thinks of alternative ways of expression, Ms. Callahan says.

"The creative child may play with words, make up new endings to stories, make up songs," she says. Ms. Callahan tells the story of a child who was drawing purple trees in her artwork. When someone criticized the painting, the child said, "You don't see what I do."

"Indeed, the adult went outside at dusk, and the trees did look purple," Ms. Callahan says.

The most creative thinkers might not be the best students, Mr. Michalko says.

"The educational system stresses fit, not outcome," he says. "By the time children graduate from school, they have learned how to be critical, negative thinkers.

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