Cultivating Creativity and Innovation: Experiences and Activities
It is important to provide children with a variety of experiences that cultivate creativity. This lesson describes how you can engage children in meaningful indoor and outdoor experiences that promote their creativity, innovative thinking, and exploration.
- Identify examples of creative experiences and activities in preschool.
- Distinguish between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.
- Reflect on creative experiences you currently use in your classroom.
"Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!"
- Dr. Seuss
Just as experiences and activities inspire your creativity, experiences and activities nurture creativity in young children. In Lesson One, you learned that creativity can be nurtured and cultivated; it is not something that simply exists in some individuals and not in others. As a preschool teacher, you are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that incorporate and nurture creativity. Creative experiences provide opportunities for children to express and demonstrate their knowledge in interesting and meaningful ways (Gandini, 1992). Fostering children’s creativity builds a foundation for healthy development and love for learning.
Fostering Creative Experiences
How does your program foster creativity in young children? Does it encourage and provide opportunities for creative expression for all children? How are you supported in promoting young children’s creativity?
The following can guide your efforts as you interact with children in preschool experiences:
- Ask children open-ended questions that allow them to use their imaginations and critical thinking skills. Ask, for example, “What would happen if…,” or “Why?” or “How?” Ask them to predict story endings or what happens next, predict what would happen if you manipulate certain materials, think about different ways to use their bodies and move to music, to offer ideas about ingredients you might need to bake or cook something, or predict what would happen if they used materials a certain way while engaging in block or construction work. Open-ended questions provide you with endless possibilities! Remember to ask questions out of honest curiosity. You shouldn’t always know the answer to a question before you ask it. Children can tell the difference between an adult who is curious and an adult who is testing them.
- Offer ideas or suggestions. You should feel comfortable balancing curiosity and contributions. While many creative experiences should be child-directed, it is OK for you to occasionally offer support or scaffolding. A simple comment or question like, “I wonder what would happen if you started the ball a little higher on the ramp” can support a child’s thinking. Some children might need support using new or unfamiliar materials. You can also offer ideas and model innovative uses of materials: recycling a metal bin into a drum, using a piece of fabric as a table cloth, etc.
- When interacting with children about their artwork, make positive comments that describe what you see them doing (e.g., “I see how you are using these two colors for your tree.”) as opposed to comments that evaluate their work (e.g., “I like how you painted that.”). Positive comments that are nonevaluating foster creative work.
- Provide children with multiple opportunities for artistic expression and appreciation of the arts. Encourage their experimentation with a variety of developmentally appropriate art forms, materials and processes (Althouse, Johnson, & Mitchell, 2003).
- Encourage and model problem-solving. As creativity entails coming up with solutions or different ways of doing things, you should incorporate problem-solving during classroom experiences. Use open-ended questions such as “What would happen if you…” to help children come up with solutions to problems or situations.
- Encourage discovery by providing thought-provoking materials and planning activities that encourage creative thinking, brainstorming, and making hypotheses. The types of activities that can be associated with discoveries are endless. A few examples of materials that can spark inquiry and discovery include: non-fiction books, paint, science kits and experiments, sensory items, magnifying glasses and telescopes, specimen and insect containers, pets and other animals, magnets, cooking utensils and natural elements like leaves, dirt, and clay.
- Use children’s interests to guide decisions you make about creative experiences. If, for example, you see that several children in your classroom enjoy construction experiences, consider adjusting your classroom space to allow children to engage in such activities. Above all, be flexible and open-minded!
- Every child demonstrates creativity in a unique way. When it comes to children with developmental disabilities, you may have to make adaptations or provide supports that will enable these children to express their creativity and to be successful.
- Providing and fostering creative experiences is an important part of your work in preschool. An equally important aspect of your work is making sure that you evaluate these experiences. Are they developmentally appropriate for the children in your classroom? Are they challenging? Are they culturally responsive and sensitive? Are children engaged and are they learning?
Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences
Culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves represented in your program. This may mean opportunities for self-reflection and expression. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world. Exposure to the world around them sparks curiosity and creative thinking in children. In terms of creativity, the term “culture” can be quite broad. You should provide experiences that help children define a sense of self and a sense of the world around them. This may include racial or ethnic identity, but it can also include identities related to family values, beliefs, or experiences. For example, children may explore the culture of living on a military installation, being an only child, or transitioning to kindergarten.
Distinguishing between Process- and Product-oriented Experiences
In your work, you should strive to achieve balance between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences. Process-oriented experiences are child-directed and open-ended and they focus on the experience itself rather than a finished product or outcome. Examples of process-oriented activities may include drawing, making prints using different objects, exploring ice, making up a story and acting it out, and experimenting with different materials in order to build something. Product-oriented experiences are usually adult-directed and have a pre-determined goal or outcome. Examples of product-oriented activities may include children making identical snowmen using the same materials on construction paper, children gluing feathers on construction paper to make a bird, or children using the same materials or objects to build similar-looking bird houses.
It is important to understand that when it comes to a finished product or the process that leads to it, a balanced approach is best. There should be opportunities for both in your work in preschool. When making decisions about using process-oriented or product-oriented experiences, you should ask yourself what your goals or objectives are. If, for example, your goal is to promote children’s exploration and creative expression, it would be inappropriate to give them identical materials and ask them to build a bird house. If, however, your goal is to encourage or demonstrate specific techniques that are needed for further skill-development (e.g., cutting or gluing), then asking children to cut or glue the same materials may be appropriate.
According to Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell, who write about integrating the visual arts into the classroom (2003), when adults continuously dictate to children the size paper to use, colors to use, and the product to make, creativity is discouraged. But not all examples of product-oriented experiences discourage creativity. Product-oriented experiences can be important when children are developing skills. For example, if a child is learning to play a musical instrument, knit, sew, or compose an essay, there are specific skills or strategies the child needs to learn. Creativity flourishes when the child has mastered the skills necessary to perform.
As a preschool staff member, you can encourage creativity by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating. The table below will provide you with some examples of how to encourage the creative process and what to avoid.
|Inappropriate Questions and Comments||Explanation||Appropriate Questions and Comments||Explanation|
|What is that?||It can be very disappointing to a child if you can’t figure out what they’ve created. Ask open-ended questions and let them tell you what it is.||What can you tell me about your piece of work?||This allows the child to share what they have been working on in their own words. This also allows you to avoid guessing what they’ve created if you are unsure.|
|I love that dog you painted.||Never assume you know what they’ve created. Try to avoid being too specific until the child has given you information.||What gave you the idea to create this?||This encourages children to think about what they’ve created and will allow them to tell you their idea behind the creation.|
|You must have been sad when you wrote that.||Do not assume you know what a child was feeling when they created something. Let them tell you — it will give them a chance to discuss their feelings but not feel uncomfortable.||What is your favorite part about it? How were you feeling when you created this?||These open-ended questions give children a chance to think about what they like about their piece of work. They might choose the topic or the color or something completely different. It also is the best way to give children the chance to discuss their feelings without pressure.|
|It looks like you need to work on your cutting skills.||Try not to judge or critique a child’s skill level when they are working on a creative project. There is a time for skill-building activities; you can easily discourage their creativity if you constantly point out the negative.||What title would you give it?||This question gives you an idea of what makes this piece important to the child. It also gives them ownership over their work.|
Creating a balance between activities that focus on the product and activities that focus on the process will be important to ensuring a well-rounded experience for preschool children. Here are some ways to help promote this balance in the learning environment:
- Provide materials for open-ended art and literature experiences.
- Allow for long-term projects by providing space for children to store their work that is not yet complete.
- Allow for free time each day so that children can choose their own experiences and create their own activities.
- Plan time to focus on specific skills.
- Observe children carefully so that you are aware of each child’s skill level.
Meeting the Needs of All Learners
Each child develops differently, and each child approaches creative experiences differently. Some children might have difficulties accessing creative experiences. For example, a child who uses a wheelchair might have trouble reaching a traditional easel. A child with visual or hearing impairments may have trouble viewing a work of art or listening to a piece of music. A child with attention difficulties might be challenged to attend to an experience for any length of time. A child who is easily over-stimulated might not enjoy sensory or open-ended experiences. You must be prepared to meet children where they are and make appropriate creative experiences a priority for all children. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to supporting all learners:
- Art and creative experiences should always be a choice, and there should be no wrong answers (Head Start, 2013). Each child encounters experiences in his or her own way and at his or her own pace.
- Do not let disabilities or differences be a barrier to participation. You should create adaptations that allow each child to participate fully.
- Scaffold creative experiences for children who need support. Although creative experiences are often open-ended, it is OK for adults to provide some help when needed. You could use a picture schedule to help an individual child begin an activity (i.e., put on smock, pick up brush, dip in paint, and create!). You may use a variety of supports such as peer support, adult support, or environmental modification to help children be successful (Sandall & Schwartz, 2008).
Fostering young children’s creativity helps build lifelong skills necessary for learning and a love for inquiry and exploration. In the first video, listen as a program director reflects on her program’s approach to creative experiences. In the second video, watch how a preschool classroom, in collaboration with a local art museum, engaged in a fun project about fairies.
As a preschool teacher, you can play a critical role in designing environments and creating experiences that foster children’s curiosity and creative thinking. The following is a list of creative learning experiences you can facilitate in your preschool classroom. The experiences are grouped by categories; however, each experience can simultaneously incorporate aspects of multiple learning domains. You can use these experiences during different parts of your day, both indoors and outdoors.
- Drawing, painting, cutting and gluing, sculpting, tracing, color-mixing, stamping, chalk work, collage work
- Inviting local artists to come to your classroom and program and talk about their work
- Exploring art in your local community by visiting art museums, galleries, craft shows, or exhibitions
- Partnering with local art programs or museums
- Introducing and using vocabulary related to art
- Using children's language, discoveries, or interests as the basis for planning art experiences
- Playing musical instruments
- Creating musical instruments
- Listening to music from different cultures and genres
- Creating songbooks
- Recording music and making songs
- Meeting local musicians in your community
- Using music props in dramatic play
- Imitating the dance or movement of various creatures
- Discussing the relationship between music, dance, and emotions
- Visiting local performance halls and theaters
- Partnering with local music and dance companies and programs
- Acting out scenes from storybooks
- Encouraging children to make and act out their own stories and scenarios
- Providing materials that allow for the creation of props, costumes, and scenery
- Playing games that encourage dramatic emotional expressions
- Providing opportunities for children to take on different theater roles (i.e., stage crew, actor, director, etc.)
- Providing props related to different roles, scenarios and cultures (including those reflective of children's backgrounds)
- Ensuring that adequate time, space and materials are provided (enough to accommodate children while promoting sharing and turn-taking)
- Watching theater performances
- Visiting local theaters
- Meeting local actors and actresses
- Partnering with local theater companies and programs
- Offering a wide range of building materials including traditional and unconventional materials (unit blocks, wood slices, stones, empty cardboard boxes, etc.)
- Providing props to extend imaginative play
- Using real and pretend tools
- Using photography and videography to document construction
- Visiting a nearby construction site
- Inviting construction workers, architects or engineers to come to your classroom
- Conducting experiments (e.g., objects that sink or float)
- Exploring elements in nature (e.g., water and its different forms, soil, insects)
- Arranging for field trips to nature preserves, museums, or parks
- Inviting specialists to come to your classroom and share knowledge and experiences
What opportunities do you currently provide for children to engage in indoor and outdoor experiences that promote their creative expression and exploration? Download and print the Reflecting on my Classroom Experiences Activity. For each box, list or describe experiences you provide that spark children’s creativity. Jot down ideas about additional experiences you can incorporate in your daily work with children. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or supervisor
Spend some time exploring websites listed in a NAEYC Art Resources article, Online and Print Resources for Exploring the Creative Arts with Young Children, which lists resources about creativity and creative experiences:
- Americans for the Arts
- Arts Education Partnership
- The Children’s Music Network
- Wolf Trap Institute for Early Learning through the Arts
- International Child Art Foundation
- MENC, the National Association for Music Education
- The National Art Education Association
- The National Dance Education Organization http://www.ndeo.org/
- Very Special Arts, the International Organization on Arts and Disability http://education.kennedy-center.org/education/vsa/
Think about what you can do to foster creative experiences for children in your care. You may consider posting information about these resources in your classroom or sharing them with families of children in your care.
|Culturally responsive creative experiences||In many ways, culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves. This may mean opportunities for self-reflection and expression. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world|
|Scaffolding||Using language and social interaction to guide and support children’s thinking (Trawick-Smith, 2014)|
Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2003). The Colors of Learning: Integrating the visual arts into the early childhood curriculum. Vol. 85 of Early Childhood Education series. New York: Teachers College Press.
Gandini, L. (1992). Creativity Comes Dressed in Everyday Clothes. Child Care Information Exchange, 26-29.
Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (2018). Caring Connections Podcast 7: Let's Talk About . . Music. Retrieved from https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/video/lets-talk-about-music
Head Start National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. (2013). The Head Start Leaders Guide to Positive Child Outcomes. Retrieved from http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/resources/eclkc_bookstore/pdfs/headstartguidepositivechildoutcomes.pdf .
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National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2004). Online and Print Resources for Exploring the Creative Arts with Young Children. Young Children, 59(4), 58-59.
Sandall, S., & Schwartz, I. (2008). Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.
Schirrmacher, R. (2006). Art and Creative Development for Young Children. (5th ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Thomas Delmar Learning.
Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.
Van Hoorn, J. L., Nourot, P. M., Scales, B., & Alward, K. R. (2002). Play at the Center of the Curriculum. (71-94). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.