By the time you’ll be reading this, the weekend’s dreariness will be long gone, but I decided to capitalize on this occurrence nonetheless. Rainy days, especially when they fall on the weekends, can certainly seem like a bummer at first, but upon second glance, they just might be a blessing in disguise. Last Saturday afternoon, as I was scooting around in the soggy mess running a few errands, I was able to catch an old NPR re-run of Sir Ken Robinson’s interview about creativity. In listening to him speak (in his charmingly eloquent British accent, I might add) I really began to think about the creative development of our children. If you haven’t heard Sir Ken’s Ted Talks, I highly recommend them. He is a very innovative, out-of-the-box thinker with progressive ideas on ways our outdated schools are no longer serving our current population of students. One of his most compelling arguments is that our schools’ overall “set up” tends to produce convergent thinkers as opposed to divergent thinkers. In convergent thinking, there is typically one right answer and a fairly mainstream way to arrive at an affirmative answer. This type of thinking is easily measured by – you guessed it – standardized tests. Divergent thinking, on the other hand, is where creativity comes into play (pun intended). There isn’t one “right” answer or even a “common” way to arrive at a particular conclusion. Ideas are big and open and full of room to explore different approaches. In divergent thinking, mistakes are embraced because faulty thinking is the oftentimes directly correlated to creativity and innovation. Sir Ken states that creativity is not “fixed” but rather exists in all of us and can (and should) be cultivated over time. He charges schools and parents with the task of nurturing this attribute which he strongly feels is necessary for successful life in the evolving global economy of the 21st century.
So back to my initial point – the notion of downtime and how it relates to creativity… I recently had a powerful discussion with a parent regarding “learning time” in some of our more non-traditional programs such as Explore Electives, Practicum, and Service Learning to name a few. The parent was worried about unstructured time, and as a result, her child was wasting an hour of his/her school day that could otherwise be spent in more meaningful, targeted instruction. This instance reminded me that parents are not necessarily reading the same research articles we read on a regular basis, and therefore, it is extremely important for us, as leaders of the school, to clearly communicate why we do what we do. While CSD definitely strives to keep students challenged with rigorous academic experiences, we also aim to extend beyond what can solely be measured on a test. We subscribe to whole child development (meaning the emotional, social, and physical development of all children, as well as cognitive development and academic achievement). Creativity is a huge piece to this puzzle! In order to help students become divergent thinkers, we create intellectually stimulating activities (centers, math games/puzzles, book club discussions, art analysis, to name a few..), but additionally, we intentionally carve unstructured segments into the school day/school week where students have “downtime” to simply be. Kids playing in the home-living center in the kindergarten classrooms are definitely still learning. Kids making up new games with new rules on the playground at recess are definitely still learning. And kids sketching and doodling on white paper with nothing more than a few colored pencils are definitely still learning as well. You see, it is in the moments of “downtime” where we make room for creative forces to break through. So as you walk through the hallways and classrooms of K-7, we hope you’ll take particular notice of these frequent occurrences. We encourage you to stop and listen to these kids engaged in creative outlets, and we’re willing to bet you will be amazed by what you see and hear.
In closing, we urge you, the parents, to make sure you are also providing these types of outlets at home as well. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. All it really requires is time, and if your schedule is anything like mine, that can be a rare commodity to come by. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying! Encourage your child(ren) to get lost in a book. Encourage them to take out art supplies and create something from scratch. Or send them outside to engage in unstructured play. The ideas are really limitless. But most importantly, be mindful of their schedule, and make sure you are embedding chunks of down time where activities are not structured. (for more on this, see The Over-Scheduled Child by Alvin Rosenfeld). By doing this, you are giving your child a gift that will serve him/her throughout his/her life. In essence, I guess I’m saying to embrace the unexpected rainy weekends, and heck, if nature doesn’t provide them (as is unfortunately sometimes the case), perhaps we should create our own. After all, as Dr. Ken so eloquently states, our challenge is not to help our children grow into creativity, but rather to stop them from growing out of it.
If this post has piqued your interest, I encourage you to check on the following:
Sir Ken’s NPR Interview: EXCELLENT! I can’t say enough great things about this man!
7 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Kids
Overscheduled Children: How Big a Problem?
The Joys of Doing Nothing