The general impression among people is that kids are more creative than adults. The idea is that kids are more open to new possibilities and less constrained by rules and practicality. In support of this line of thought James Hamblin recently posted, Everyone Was an Artist in Kindergarten, in The Atlantic. The proof in this assumption comes from casual surveys taken by the creative consultant, Gordon MacKenzie, during speaking engagements with young students ranging from kindergarten to sixth grade.
When MacKenzie would ask kindergarteners, “how many of you are artists?” all would raise their hand. But with older kids, an interesting trend develops. Fewer and fewer students identify themselves as artists as they grow up. By sixth grade, only a small percentage raises their hand in response to the same question of being an artist. The reason for this is that as kids grow up, they feel the judgmental pressures from others and don’t want to take the risk of being judged as weird.
But if we look deeper into the definition of creativity and how it works, there’s another way we could look at this same trend. The most widely recognized definition for creativity is “the production of something novel and useful.” It has three parts. The first part pertains to making. You have to actually make something to be considered creative. Secondly, that thing has to be different, novel, from other things already in existence. The extent to which this thing is different from other things ranges from being novel to you, to being novel to humanity. Then thirdly, this novel thing you create has to useful; it has to solve a problem. The better it does that, the more creative it is rated.
Young children do feel a sense of freedom because they aren’t aware of being judged. But they don’t create many finished products. And if you were to look at the things they make, they are very similar. And mostly, they are the product of what an adult has told them to do. In the end, these things that kids make are rarely more useful than refrigerator decorations. But as kids grow up, they tend to be more selective in what they choose to create. And they the things they create tend to be more functional. And as they get even older, their creations tend to be more unique.
I’ll give you two case studies, my kids (names withheld).
Case study #1
A long time ago (in kid years), my daughter would sing songs for me. I’d push her on the swing in our backyard and she would makeup songs on any topic I gave her. Usually, the themes centered on clouds, grass, fairies or other similar subject matter. While I was overwhelmed with enthusiasm about her ability to create such wonderful phrases, her creations would barely be considered songs if they were written down. In fact, she never wrote any of them down. That’s partly due to the fact that she couldn’t read or write at the time. Today, she can’t remember any of them. Five years later, she won’t sing any songs for me. She gets embarrassed. Did she loose her ability to be creative
Yesterday, my daughter took a sketchbook lying around her room and drew a bunch of dress designs. These days, she spends much of her time changing clothes. This is where her interest lies. The designs she created are all well documented, colored and have intricate patterning. Honestly, they are pretty sophisticated.
Case studey #2
My son, who is much more reserved than my daughter, used to create the most beautiful finger paintings while in pre-K. We even have one framed on the wall. Today as an eleven year old, he never paints.
What he does instead is to obsess on all things NASCAR. He watches races, plays with his collection of NASCAR replicas, and plays NASCAR on the Wii. He has an app on his iPod that enables him to create stop-animation videos of races he stages. Additionally, he has constructed foam core replicas of many of the racetracks in the NASCAR sprint cup series. He does this by drawing the general shape of the track on a flat piece of foam core, and then cutting it out with is pocket knife. Then, he cuts out the rails and tapes everything together. The tracks even include pit areas. He does all this all on his own. In time, he has created new ways of constructing tracks and more effective ways of filming his videos.
Are my kids more or less creative than before?
Let’s take a look back at being an artist. When we think of artists, we think of creativity. But not all artists are creative. Many artists, base their entire careers on tradition. This misconception often comes from people confusing creativity with expression. You can easily be very expressive without being creative. Also, artists don’t have a lock on creativity. Creative people are found in all sorts of fields. So just because kids don’t think of themselves as artists, doesn’t mean they don’t still want to do creative acts. Remember, I’m an artist who exhibited and sold works for years.
What I’m trying to say is that just because we don’t all see ourselves as artists, doesn’t mean we aren’t creative. Today all fields involve creativity, not just art. In fact, many adults are far more creative than kids. Partly, that’s because adults have the ability to follow through on their creative ideas.