By Paula Smith, Teacher
A child stood at the easel looking very engaged in his painting. The brush swept across the easel paper with rapid strokes. The child laid the brushes next to the paint pots and listened to his creative voice, smiling from ear to ear. With a quick swoop the child dipped both hands, simultaneously, into the red and blue paint pots. All the while, the teacher observed at a close distance, watching as the boy smeared the paint on the palms of his hands and then on his wrists. With quick movements, the child’s arms bathed in paint. With a look of extreme satisfaction on his face, the child watched his hands as the paint swished and gushed through his fingers and his clenched fists. He then looked at the easel, spread out his fingers, and preceded to paint with his hands in a “wax on, wax off” motion. The child finished his painting with a soft head-butt on the easel to add some color to his hair. He stood back, looked at his true work of art, and smiled.
As we see at Bing School every day, children generally have few inhibitions about displaying their creativity, whether in paint, sand, wood, language, or storytelling. For adults, though, it’s often a different matter: creativity just seems to come more easily to some than to others. How, if at all, can the average person become more creative?
For staff development day in the fall, the teaching staff decided to broaden and explore our own creativity. Our day began with a trip to the Resource Area for Teachers (RAFT) in San Jose. RAFT provides the educational community with materials that have been donated by over a thousand local businesses: plastic lids, margarine tubs, pipettes, stickers, computer boards, envelopes, and plastic baskets are among the many objects available. Bing teachers often use these interactive materials for the self-help art tables and projects in the classroom.
To children, the possibilities of the materials are endless.
After the visit to RAFT, Bonnie Zimmerman talked to us on “Cultivating Creativity.” A Bing parent, Dr. Zimmerman received her MD from Northwestern University and completed a residency in psychiatry at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. She has been affiliated with the Stanford community in many capacities, serving on the clinical faculty at Stanford Medical School for fifteen years, teaching creativity in the School of Engineering, and currently, teaching courses in creativity through Continuing Studies at Stanford. She also consults for a range of organizations and individuals who recognize the importance of creativity in their fields.
Zimmerman stressed that creativity is an exploration beyond arts and genius. The key ingredient to being creative is to have easy access to this state. Zimmerman posed two important questions: What can you do to gain easy access, and what can you do as a parent or teacher to help children gain easy access?
As these questions settled in our minds, Zimmerman invited us to “make a mess” for two minutes with a stark white piece of legal paper, water colors, paints, and Cray-Pas. Fighting all internal and external conditions, teachers were questioning: What do I paint? What will I draw? What colors should I use? What is everyone else drawing? What will people think of my painting? What if people laugh at my picture? What if I can only draw stick figures? What if it doesn’t come out “pretty or beautiful”? When the two minutes were up, Zimmerman addressed the questions in our heads by defining the state of creativity:
• Creativity is a willingness to focus on the process by “let-ting go.” Creativity is a process, not a product.
• Creativity is the ability to perceive and continue despite personal judgment.
• Creativity is chaos and mistakes that serve as an opportunity.
• Creativity is risk, a chance to violate your own status quo.
• Creativity is curiosity, passion, playful-ness, and experimentation.
• Creativity is tolerating ambiguity.
• Creativity is a period of indecision or not knowing.
As the opening anecdote demonstrates, children are intrinsically motivated to be creative, feeling free to express themselves regardless of personal and external judgments. For teachers, working with children is a daily re-education in appreciating and accepting the creativity and spontaneity of children. At the same time, we have to recognize that children will be influenced by adults’ reactions, whether positive or negative. In using verbal tactics to “redirect” a child’s artistic expression, we need to foster, not inhibit or narrow, a child’s intrinsic motivation. After all, we are defining and setting the boundaries for a child’s creativity.