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Welcoming mistakes promotes innovative thinking and creativity

Welcoming mistakes promotes innovative thinking and creativity

By Kendra Thornton, Ed.D.

Children enter schools full of imagination and curiosity. They ask questions, seek solutions, and are not afraid of being wrong.

But this fades with age. WHY? 

Some educational experts theorize it is because traditional schools reward convergent thinking, the ability to find a single answer to a problem using traditional methods. Many schools value the acquisition of a single correct answer and kids receive validation for their ability to produce it, but education must evolve to where the focus of learning is on construction rather than instruction.

Our economy is transitioning from one built on manufactured goods to an economy based on information and ideas. Rapid evolution of technology means our future workforce will increasingly need innovators and collaborators. By 2020, creativity will be one of the top three skills required by employers. Therefore, creativity is as important as literacy and should be treated as such. You might want to listen to an entertaining, but informative, Ted Talk called “Do schools kill creativity” by Ken Robinson. He advocates  education that nurtures creativity instead of undermining it.

Creativity empowers divergent thinkers

When people hear the word “creativity” they often associate it with artists and musicians, but creativity goes beyond the arts. An article by Ulrich Kraft in Scientific American called “Unleashing Creativity, makes the point that creativity empowers divergent thinkers to diversely apply knowledge and seek novel solutions to problems, however, ‘creativity’ and ‘divergent thinking’ are not synonyms. 

The good news is that creativity is pliable and can be taught (Teaching Creativity and Inventive Problem Solving in Science, DeHaan, 2009). Consequently, it is important that schools foster natural curiosity. Classrooms in which teachers promoted student creativity saw student achievement gains (Creative Teaching: Why it Matters and Where to Begin, Schacter, Thum, and Zifkin, 2006). Collaborative, hands-on, project-based learning experiences provide students with an opportunity to employ divergent thinking. To fully engage in learning, children need the “big picture” to understand context and how content relates. One cannot teach people to drive by using a textbook, they have to get behind the wheel. The same is true for children – we must situate learning for kids to engage.

How parents can nurture creativity

Parents can nurture their child’s creativity in a variety of ways:

  • Embrace their frustration instead of rushing in to eliminate it.
  • Get messy.
  • Don’t overschedule. Ideas (and people) need time to develop. (Rusk et al, 2009).
  • Create learning experiences that stimulate problem-solving and idea generation

To gauge your child’s understanding:

  • Use pictures instead of words to evoke more creativity because images are open to interpretation. 
  • Use one word instead of a sentence which locks in the meaning of the words contained in it.
  • Open-ended prompts encourage a diverse array of responses.
    • Instead of: “What is the best solution for this problem?” Say: “Name as many different solutions as you can.”  Then, have children forecast the effectiveness and implications of their proposed solutions.

We encourage innovative thinking and creativity when we offer opportunities to take risks, so barriers to creativity, such as fear of ridicule and uncertainty, need to be addressed. The best way to do this is to create a culture of respect and trust in which kids are willing to take risks and try new ideas. An important aspect of this is adults who model life-long learning and experimenting in their own lives.

Welcome mistakes, at home and at school, as learning opportunities.

Kendra Thornton

About the Author

Kendra Thornton, Ed.D., is Lower School Director at The Summit Country Day School. She received her doctorate in education from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., with a specialization in “Mind, Brain and Teaching.” A professional clinical counselor, Dr. Thornton has been published in professional journals and has been a presenter at national conferences.