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Creativity: An Introduction

Creativity is an important part of the human experience. From infancy through adulthood, we flex our creativity when we solve problems, brainstorm solutions, explore our surroundings, and think in flexible ways. This lesson will introduce you to the role of creativity in child development and provide a brief overview of creativity for children and adults.

  • Reflect on your own ideas about creativity in children and adults.
  • Define creativity and its importance for child development and adult learning.
  • Describe creativity from infancy through adulthood.


creative sun

"There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who with the help of their art and their intelligence transform a yellow spot into a sun."- Pablo Picasso

Close your eyes and picture the most creative person you know. What words or images come to your mind? How would you describe the person? Confident? Free-spirited? Artistic? Energetic? Happy? Smart? What does the person do that makes him or her creative? Perhaps the person is an artist who enjoys painting, sculpting, writing or performing. Perhaps the person finds joy in everyday things: wrapping a gift with a unique bow, brainstorming brand new lesson plans, creating a new recipe, or planning parties. Perhaps the person expresses himself or herself in interesting ways: wearing interesting socks, writing handwritten notes, or telling funny stories. This person is “creative” in his or her own way. This course will focus on helping you understand the broad ways people can express their creativity. In the Explore section of this lesson, you will have a chance to reflect on your own experiences with creativity.

Just as each of us have had different experiences with people we consider creative, each of us reacts to the concept of “creativity” differently. Think about the people around you: staff members, family, and friends. Are the people who consider themselves creative excited to have opportunities to showcase their talents and ideas? Perhaps they volunteer to decorate for a party, cook treats, make scrapbooks, or lead a song? Do people you know who say they are not creative avoid open-ended experiences? Do they fear being criticized for their lack of artistic ability?

Regardless of individuals’ experiences with creativity, it is a disposition we can nurture and cultivate. Believing you are creative may be just as important as whether or not you actually are creative (Kaufman, 2009, p. 94). When do you feel most creative in your daily activities? Is it when you are gardening, cooking, or commuting to work? It is likely that you are already engaging in creative thinking in many different ways but may not recognize it as being creative.

In your professional role, you will work with many different types of people, each possessing unique talents and ways of looking at the world. Part of your role is to encourage others to use their creative insight to discover solutions to problems that are common or extraordinary. Creativity is not just traditional “art.” According to Roger von Oech, a creativity expert and author of “Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It),” creative thinking involves “imagining familiar things in a new light, digging below the surface to find previously undetected patterns, and finding connections among unrelated phenomena.”

What is Creativity?

Defining creativity is not as simple as it may seem because it can mean different things to different people. It could be a talent like singing or dancing or it could be a different way of thinking. Creativity is a trait that exists in everyone. It exists to a higher degree in some people and to a lesser degree in others. Just as it is impossible to have zero intelligence, it is also impossible to have zero creativity. Therefore, it is important to begin thinking about “how” an individual is creative rather than “if” an individual is creative (Cropley, 2001).

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

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.

Introduction to Creativity

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.

Why is Creativity Important?

Creativity is a crucial part of the human experience: it helps us rise to challenges, overcome obstacles, and create opportunities. Creative people invent the future. We must nurture creativity to encourage the next generation of engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs, artists, poets, professors, doctors and inventors. Creativity also helps build resilience in children and families. Creative people can solve problems and bounce back from challenges. In a professional role, creativity also helps you build the kind of workplace community that feels welcoming, energetic and nurturing. It helps you and staff members engage all children and families in a range of meaningful experiences. Simply put, creativity keeps things interesting.

Creativity also is important because it demonstrates openness to new experiences. These experiences include having a good imagination, experiencing and valuing feelings, trying new things based on individual interests, having a curious mindset, and having an openness to new challenges that may be unconventional (Kaufman, 2009).

In the following video, you’ll hear from staff members about why creativity is important across the age span.

Introduction to Creativity

Learn why creativity is important for children, staff, and yourself.

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 Curriculum & Training Specialist 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:


 There is a lot of thought going on in the world about creativity. Take a little bit of time to explore one of the digital spaces where ideas are shared. After you have watched a few of the recommeded videos, take time to think about and answer the questions on the Creative Spark activity below.


Creativity is an important feature of child and youth programs. Use the Creativity Survey to learn more about how staff members perceive their own creativity. There are no right or wrong answers. Simply review staff members’ responses and use the information to inform your work.


Is a trait that exists in all people. It is the ability to have new ideas, solve problems and think about issues in different ways


True or False? Your role as a supervisor, trainer or coach is to recognize that some staff members simply are not creative.
You are preparing a presentation on creativity for a staff inservice. Finish this statement for your presentation. Creative adults . . .
You overhear a staff member say to a co-worker that working with infants and toddlers must be boring because they are not old enough for creative experiences yet. How do you respond?
References & Resources

Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2002). 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.

Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (Eds.). (2010). Nurturing creativity in the classroom. New York: 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.

Johnson, D. (2012). Developing Creativity in Every Learner. Library Media Connection. October, 2012.

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

Malaguzzi, L. (1987). The Hundred Languages of Children (I cento linguaggi dei bambini), exhibition catalog (16-21).

Sellman, E. (Ed.). (2011). Creative Learning for Inclusion: Creating learning to meet special needs in the classroom. New York: Routledge.

Von Oech, R. (2002) Expect the Unexpected (or You Won’t Find It): A creativity tool based on the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.

Zevin, J. (2013). Creative Teaching for All: In the box, Out of the box, and off the walls. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.