Regimented Creativity Anyone?

Posted on May 23, 2007



I’ve previously posted about education and creativity and promoted Sir Ken Robinson’s compelling argument for the need to rethink our view of intelligence and the principles on which education systems around the world are based (from TED 2006). If you haven’t heard Sir Ken’s speech, I urge you to go and listen to it here.   

Over the weekend, my wife and kids became targets for a campaign by a business venture offering “creative art courses” for young children under the name of “Art Boot Camp”. Their proposition to parents, such as me reads: “A Disciplined Approach to Creativity”. My young daughters were thrilled about the balloons they got to bring home. My wife just handed me the brochure, gave me a dejected smile and shook her head. Take a look at this she said. 

When it comes to young children’s mental development and creative capacities, discipline, as much as a lot of parents love this word, is the last thing you want. Think about it for a second. Isn’t this exactly what your intuition would tell you?  

If you’ve ever sat and watched children play for an extended period of time and been there next to them to try to answer their wonderfully intriguing questions, I think you would have to come to the same conclusion. In fact, I am quite certain of it. We don’t need science for these things.  

The inherent curiosity, imagination and creativity in children are simply amazing. Picasso really nailed it when he said “all children are born artists, the problem is to remain artists as we grow up”. What children need, want and thrive on is freedom to explore; to let their curiosity take them places of excitement, wonder and discovery. How I wish our creative department was full of people like that (ahem). This curiosity I’m talking about is probably the most valuable gift we’re given in our short lives on this planet. We simply can’t afford to squander it.  

My lovely friend, Annelie over in Gothenburg, Sweden is a child pedagogy specialist. She now works in education where she is experimenting with “teaching” and development techniques in which stimulating children’s inherent curiosity is the fulcrum of all activities. She once told me that cross-disciplinary studies in the field have shown that up to the age of about six, a child’s mental/intellectual development is optimised by an absolute minimum of disciplined instructions. Now what do you think your parents would have to say about that? 

The reason part of me as a parent feels uncomfortable about this is not that I don’t believe this is true, I do, but because I’m raising my kids in an intensely competitive environment; a system predicated on the idea of academic ability. So in order to equip my kids to be able to compete in this environment, I may be “forced” to compromise on what my intuition tells me is right. Sometimes I can’t help but feel that kids aren’t allowed to be kids. And if this is the case, we may potentially be raising the uncreative generation!? Something seems fundamentally wrong with what’s going on here. 

What’s apparently optimal for kids up to this age is to simply let them play together. It becomes the “teachers” task not to direct and dictate the activity but to carefully “guide” the children and naturally stimulate their play by continually introducing new stimuli that serves to further spark curiosity and exploration. This, Annelie tells me, is a much tougher and more demanding challenge for teachers than that of the more traditional, disciplinary, template-like pedagogy in which, even from a very young age, skills are taught in a relatively strict, disciplinary manner.  

A couple of years ago, a Singaporean delegation of educators visited a northern European country to find out why their ten-year-olds tested well across most subjects. This seemed odd to the delegates given kids over there didn’t start school until the age of seven; at least three years later than kids in Singapore. The conclusion the delegation came back with was brief, and I believe accurate. The report basically stated that their kids were given freedom to play; to do what comes naturally to them. Something to think about.  


Posted in: Opinion