The cover of the July 19th Newsweek immediately caught my eye: America is suffering from a creativity crisis, according to Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman, authors of the bestselling book, “NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children.” Children, particularly those in kindergarten through the sixth grade, are experiencing the most serious decline.
The authors defined “creativity” as the ability to produce something original and useful. It requires problem solving, focused attention and the ability to use both left and right hemispheres of the brain.
While the article describes in detail what schools can do to foster creativity, I was especially interested in the role of parents. Bronson and Merryman examined the work of two researchers who spent decades studying the childhoods of highly creative people. They found that these individuals grew up in households where “parents encouraged uniqueness, yet provided stability.” Their mothers and fathers were quick to respond to their children’s needs but they also encouraged them to be independent and acquire new skills.
“This resulted in a sort of adaptability: in times of anxiousness, clear rules could reduce chaos – yet when kids were bored, they could seek change, too,” the authors wrote. “In the space between anxiety and boredom was where creativity flourished.”
The highly creative adults that were part of the study also experienced hardship, which led them to become more flexible – a trait that encourages creativity.
Bronson and Merryman also dismissed the stereotype that creative children tend to be depressed or anxious. If they behave in such a way, they’re simply bored, they wrote.
“When creative children have a supportive teacher – someone tolerant of unconventional answers, occasional disruptions or detours of curiosity – they tend to excel. When they don’t, they tend to underperform…”
To nurture creativity, Bronson and Merryman offered several tips including:
- reduce children’s screen time and encourage free play
- improve cognition by getting at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise
- allow children to follow their passions instead of giving “superficial exposure to many activities”
- explore other cultures
- learn the art of flexibility
What do you do at home to help your children become creative, problem-solving individuals?