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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? Curious? Energetic? Happy? Smart? What does the person do that makes them creative? Perhaps the person solves problems quickly and sees everyday experiences in a completely unique way. Perhaps the person enjoys expressing themselves in a variety of ways: through arts, technology, telling funny stories, writing personal notes. 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. This person is “creative” in their 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 lead a committee, 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?

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.” There are a number of pervasive myths about creativity that you can learn to challenge (Benedek et al., 2021):

Creativity is a rare giftAll people are creative. Those considered to be most creative are open to new experiences.
Creativity is usually the same as artCreative ideas are usually based on remembered information that is combined in new ways. Creativity is about new ideas, but it’s also about ideas that are useful. What is considered “creative” is also determined by culture and social norms.
Creativity tends to be solitaryInteractions can help spark new ideas, and mentorship can help grow creativity. However, it’s also a myth that group brainstorming always leads to more ideas than solo thinking.
Children are more creative than adultsCreativity can be nurtured across the life span. It is the result of effort and learning.
Creative accomplishments are the result of sudden inspirationCreative breakthroughs take a great deal of time, effort, and practice. It can take years to refine a novel, iterate on an invention, or solve a complex problem.

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.

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.

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. Celebrating and recognizing creative thinking also helps spark more creative thinking.

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, 2016).

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 Training & Curriculum 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:


Creativity shows up in many different ways. Exploring your own creative identity supports your work with staff and children by helping you make connections and practice reflective supervision. In the activity Creativity Self Reflection, take the quiz created by Adobe Create Magazine to explore your creative type. Once you have your results, reflect on how your creative type impacts role as trainer or coach.  


Creativity is an important feature of child and youth programs. Complete the Creativity Survey  to reflect on your own creativity, and then print and share this survey to share with staff members to complete. There are no right or wrong answers. At a training or meeting, review your responses with each other and use the information to build relationships and support creativity. 


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. New York: Teachers College Press.

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

Beloglovsky, M. & Daly, L. (2018). Loose parts 3: Inspiring culturally sustainable environments. Red Leaf Press.

Benedek, M., Karstendiek, M., Ceh, S. M., Grabner, R. H., Krammer, G., Lebuda, I., Silvia, P. J., Cotter, K. N., Li, Y., Hu, W., Martskvishvili, K., & Kaufman, J. C. (2021). Creativity myths: Prevalence and correlates of misconceptions on creativity. Personality and Individual Differences, 182, Article 111068.

Bentley, D. F. (2013). Everyday artists: Inquiry and creativity in the early childhood classroom. New York: Teachers College Press.

Edwards, C. P., Gandini, L., & Foreman, G. (2011). The hundred languages of children: The Reggio Emilia experience in transformation, 3rd Edition. Preager Press.

Helm, J. H., & Katz, L. G. (2016). Young investigators: The project approach in the early years., 3rd ed. New York: Teachers College Press.

Heroman, C. (2017). Making & tinkering with STEM: Solving design challenges with young children. NAEYC.

Isbell, K., & Yoshizawa, S. A. (2016). Nurturing Creativity: An essential mindset for young children's learning. NAEYC.

Johnson, D. (2015). Teaching outside the lines: Developing creativity in every learner.  Corwin Press.

Kaufman, J. C. (Ed.). (2016). Creativity 101. New York: Springer Publishing Company.

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

Teaching Young Children (2015). Expressing creativity in preschool (The preschool teacher's library of playful practice set). NAEYC.

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