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Creativity: An Introduction

Creativity powers learning and it can take many forms, each of which benefits our lives as individuals as well as society. Creating an environment that ignites creativity in children, youth, and adults alike is an important aspect of your work as a manager.

  • Define creativity.
  • Articulate the importance of creativity to staff and families.
  • Model dispositions that ignite creativity at your program.



When you hear the word “creative,” what comes to mind? Do you immediately think of something artistic such as painting or dancing? Do you think of medical breakthroughs or scientific discoveries? Do you think of world leaders or community activists? Do you think of specific individuals? Do you consider yourself a creative person? Creativity can mean different things to different people and the way one evaluates their own creativity is often influenced by the opportunities and experiences they had early in their lives. Some people are encouraged to try new things and others are criticized for doing so. Some people are exposed to a variety of interesting experiences and others are not. Some people think of themselves as creative and others do not.

As a manager, it’s your responsibility to demonstrate that creativity is something everyone possesses regardless of age or ability. We are born curious, and with the right support, that curiosity leads to new ways of thinking and doing. As you have learned in previous courses, people take cues from you. When you acknowledge your staff for developing learning experiences that support creativity, applaud children and youth for their creative efforts, and provide opportunities for staff and families to participate in creative endeavors, you are igniting creativity. Creativity is promoted when you show people how to be creative, not when you tell them to do so.

What Is Creativity?

Creativity cannot be defined simply. Creativity can be expressed intellectually, artistically, socially, and physically. According to school technology consultant Doug Johnson, creativity can be demonstrated in a number of different ways:

  • As writers, presenters, and storytellers
  • As numeric problem-solvers
  • As graphic artists through drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, and designing
  • As athletes and dancers kinesthetically
  • As musicians creating new works, performing, and conducting
  • As humorists in all media
  • As team-builders and collaborators
  • As problem-solvers
  • As inventors and systems innovators
  • As leaders who organize, motivate, and inspire
  • As excuse-makers

Regardless of the creative endeavor, all share common attributes. Creativity must represent something different, new, innovative, useful, and relevant (Kaufman, 2009). Creativity can be expressed in a process, product, or both. In fact, all creative products are the result of engaging in a creative process. When there are peace talks between countries and a resolution is reached, a creative process is used. When a team of medical researchers develop a new drug for diabetes, the product is creative. When a group of junior high students create a website for their school, which is both a creative process and product.

Creativity is the result of having a curious mind that is propelled to explore and experiment, a mind that is disciplined to think critically and divergently. "Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought." - Einstein

Why Is Creativity Important?

Creativity is essential to a civilized society. Advances in governance, education, science, medicine and technology benefit us all either directly or indirectly. We have moved from an industrial society to a knowledge society, using knowledge to creatively solve the today’s problems while potentially preventing the problems of tomorrow. Artifacts from our past and representations of the future are captured in the arts and their many forms. Our living culture is embedded into literature, architecture, dance, music, drama and art. Our society as a whole is richer, healthier, and safer as a result.

Creativity is the heartbeat of our communities. The Global Power City Index, developed by the Mori Memorial Foundation in Japan, ranks cities by their ability to attract creative people and companies. Creative communities are vibrant and offer opportunities to earn, engage, and experience. They are places where people want to live. Our local communities enhance our quality of life as a result of diverse people and ideas.

Creativity is the engine for achieving our individual hopes and dreams. Whether one’s goal is to be the first person in the family to go to college, to own a business, to run a marathon, or to get out of a negative relationship, the ability to think creatively helps us get where we want to be. Knowing what you want and figuring out what you have to do to get there is a creative pursuit. Our lives are more purposeful as a result of our ability to explore the possibilities.

What Does Creativity Look Like Across the Age Continuum?

You have the opportunity to nurture creativity in adults and children. To be most effective at your job, you should understand what creativity looks like from infancy through adulthood. Watch this video and then read on for more details.

What Does Creativity look Like?

Learn what creativity looks like for children, staff, and yourself.
Creativity in Infants and Toddlers

Infants and toddlers are natural explorers and problem-solvers. They use their senses, their bodies, and their minds in new and interesting ways every day. Infants and toddlers need extended periods of time to explore and play with interesting materials. Safety has to be the first priority, as infants and toddlers tend to explore objects with their mouths. But getting messy—spreading paint around a large paper with their fingers, squeezing mud between their hands, spreading food around a plate or even a face—all are explorations in cause and effect.

Creativity in Preschoolers

Preschoolers should have daily opportunities for artistic expression and appreciation through art and music. Children experiment and enjoy various forms of dramatic play, music and dance. A variety of art media, such as markers, crayons, paints and clay should be available for creative expression and representation of ideas and feelings. Just like infants and toddlers, preschoolers benefit from extended periods of time to play and explore. Their curiosity can be sparked through authentic investigations or solving problems they encounter in daily life: figuring out how to fix a block structure on the playground, exploring how the closed-circuit video system in the program works, etc. can all be interesting ways children expand their creativity.

Creativity in School-Age Children

School-age children should be encouraged to express themselves physically and through ideas and feelings. We must help them acquire fundamental concepts and skills in the fine and performing arts through such things as drawing, painting, sculpting, music, drama and dance. School-age children enjoy creating and enacting plays; they use their creativity when they make alternative endings to familiar stories or songs. They also enjoy figuring out how and why things work. They may ask many questions of the adults around them and enjoy tinkering with tools or other objects that can be deconstructed.

Creativity in Adults

Creative adults are problem-solvers. They enjoy trying new things, expressing themselves in a variety of ways, and brainstorming solutions to challenges. We can encourage creativity among adults by providing safe opportunities to take risks and offer new ideas.

In Summary

Creativity is a concept that is sometimes easier to identify than to describe. Creativity manifests itself in many different ways, but the genesis of all creative endeavors is a willingness to explore, experiment, and exchange ideas. You and your staff can either ignite or extinguish creativity. Today’s children and youth will be the thinkers and doers of tomorrow. We need the very best from you today so we can benefit from the very best of them in the future.

Think Outside the Stick

It Can Be Anything You Want It to Be!

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Management Creative Expression Course Guide

To support the professional development of the direct care staff members or family child care providers you oversee, you can access their corresponding Course Guides:


Exploring your own feelings about creativity can help you to better encourage creativity in your program. As you have learned in this lesson, creativity is expressed in a multitude of ways.

Reflect on a time when were you are at your creative best. What was the activity? What words come to mind when you are engaged in that creative activity? How has your creativity been nurtured? Did someone support your creative efforts or did you support yourself?


Creativity is the topic of a great deal of thought in the world. Take a little bit of time to explore one of the digital spaces where ideas are shared: TED conferences. In its own words, TED is a nonprofit “devoted to ideas worth spreading.” World famous artists, scientists, and inventors share their ideas in short multimedia presentations.The following TED talk discusses creativity in a way that is very relevant to this course. Ken Robinson, a visionary cultural leader and creativity expert, author of the book The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, revisits his idea that “Schools Kill Creativity.” Follow the link below and watch the TED talk. How does the information presented apply to your work as a manager?


A trait that exists in everyone. It is the ability to have new ideas, solve problems, and think about issues in different ways


True or False? The infant and toddler caregivers in your program do not need to plan extended periods of time for infants and toddlers to explore and use interesting materials. This is something only preschool and school-age staff need to be concerned with.
You observe in Brianna’s preschool classroom and meet with her later to discuss your observations. Brianna mentions that she sometimes struggles with planning creative circle time activities. How do you respond?
Finish this statement: Creativity is important because. . .
References & Resources

Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2003). The Colors of Learning: Integrating the visual arts into the early childhood curriculum (Vol. 85). New York: Teachers College Press.

Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (Eds.). (2010). Nurturing Creativity in the Classroom. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Bentley, D. F. (2013). Everyday Artists: Inquiry and Creativity in the Early Childhood Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

Cropley, A. J. (2001). Creativity in Education and Learning: A guide for teachers and educators. New York: Psychology Press.

Helm, J. H., & Katz, L. G. (2011). Young Investigators: The project approach in the early years. New York: Teachers College Press.

Kaufman, J. C. (Ed.). (2009). Creativity 101. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

Malaguzzi, L. (1987). The hundred languages of children. The hundred languages of children (I cento linguaggi dei bambini. Exhibition catalogue) (16-21).

Robinson, K, (2001) Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Sellman, E. (Ed.). (2011). Creative Learning for Inclusion: Creating Learning To Meet Special Needs In The Classroom. London: Routledge.

Zevin, J. (2013). Creative Teaching for All: In the Box, Out of the Box, and Off the Walls. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.