advice, aha moment, Be the change, being a teacher, creativity, students

How to Unleash the Uncreative Children

image from icanread

I was a dreadfully uncreative child.  Sure, I would draw trees, flowers, animals, but whenever someone told me to unleash my creativity, my heart sank and my page usually stayed empty.  Writing was slightly better, but I tended to stay on tangents so much that even I couldn’t tell my stories apart after awhile.  And singing?  While I loved to sing, I couldn’t just create something out of thin air no matter how hard I wanted to.  No, I would never be a jazz singer.

When I look back on my childhood I see that I was probably not alone.  Many of my friends weren’t explosively creative either and while these days when we have uncreative children we tend to blame our school system, I think it was just the way we were.  We didn’t know how to be creative so we weren’t.

I see this play out in my classroom as well.  I ask students to come up with whatever type of project they want and they go into a slight panic, not quite sure where to go with that much choice.  Or tell them to write a story about anything they want and some of them are so stuck in a writers block that they actually sit there frozen, never even lifting their pencils.  So what can be done with those kids that are stuck in a panic battled with creativity?  How can we unleash their potential?

  • Give them limited choice.  I think choice is one of the biggest gifts we can give to students, however, to some the  thought of free choice limits their imagination rather than urging them to create.  So give them some choices and then urge them forward.
  • Give them examples.  I know this sounds counter-intuitive to spark creativity but often some students simple need to see what is possible before they venture out on their own.  Sure, they may borrow ideas from what we show but in the end they still create.
  • Check in often.  While we tend to think of creativity as an adult-less venture, those kids that struggle with the process need check-ins and reassurance letting them know they are on the right track and help getting unstuck.
  • Celebrate the small risks.  We tend to look for the impressive but when it comes to some students, we need to celebrate even the little ventures into creativity.  Boost their self-esteem and let them know that what they are doing is right.
  • Praise, praise, praise.  As an uncreative child I always thought I was doing it wrong, if someone had told me I was doing it right, I would have had more faith in myself.  Often lack of creativity comes from the same place as lack of self-confidence.  Make sure it is not empty praise but rather specific and to the point.
  • Give options to collaborate.  I almost always give students the choice to have partners in projects simply because they spur each other on.
  • Break the mold of creativity.  We tend to only allow for creativity within certain subjects but why not open up all of our subjects to creative thought and exploration?  Some students will do better unleashing their genius within math than literacy.  Make room for them as well.
  • Be persistent.  I was almost allowed allowed to give up on projects as a child whenever they failed rather than see them through, and while we should know it is ok to abandon something, as teachers we should also encourage our reluctant students to push forward.  While it may not be the best creation, it is something, and that is always worth celebrating.
  • Highlight everyone.  Part of not being creative was that I knew who was considered creative in my class.  Those kids were given special attention every time.  I was never in the group therefore I quickly deduced that I was not creative.  Be careful that we don’t let our labels of students stymie them.

I am a passionate (female) 5th grade teacher in Wisconsin, USA, proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students Starting Today” will be released this March from Powerful Learning Press.   Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

11 thoughts on “How to Unleash the Uncreative Children”

  1. I think the very nature of creativity goes against the system we work in. The pressure of time and results means many teachers can’t take the “risk” of creativity because who knows where it will lead? Therefore those not actively creative lack opportunities to develop these skills. How is the problem solved? By a teacher being creative and finding time to do some of the things mentioned above in all subjects. Well said @PernilleRipp.

    1. Yes, so much of what we battle is inherent within the system we work in. There are ways to work within to find the time such as genius hour, innovation day, and simply by stopping most of the teacher talk but we must make it a priority.

  2. Your second piece of advice, giving examples, is spot on. Our students, while possessing the capacity of creativity, may not have the experience necessary to express it. I had the same experience as you as a child, freezing when told to be creative because I didn’t know what that meant or what creativity could look like. I think creativity is sparked when we see what has been done, and then can see what might be possible. We can help our students share their creativity by providing examples of what that word means. This is a great list for me to take with me into the classroom.

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