“All children are born artists; the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso

This quote, commonly attributed to Picasso, is quite accurate – children are born with a tremendous capacity for creativity and imagination. Retaining that creativity however, presents a problem. Studies show that by age 10 many children have lost up to 70% of their capacity for creativity, and that as adults, we use only a tiny portion of our original creative potential.

Worse still, American children have become progressively less creative over the past 20 years, a decline that has been dubbed “the creativity crisis”. This slump in creative thinking was first observed in 2010 by educational psychologist Kyung Hee Kim. Creativity is quantified using a series of tasks called the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking (TTCT). Millions of people worldwide have taken these tests since they were first administered in 1958.

Kim analyzed 300,000 of these creativity scores and discovered that, while scores had been steadily rising with each generation, they’d begun to decrease significantly beginning in 1990. Kim says that today’s kids are less imaginative, less able to elaborate on concepts, less able to come up with original ideas, and even less humorous.

This decline in creativity doesn’t bode well for future generations, as creativity is often cited by experts as perhaps the most valuable attribute for the future. One poll of CEO’s found that creativity was overwhelmingly named the most important leadership quality.

But creativity isn’t just an important trait in those aiming for the Fortune 500, or for the artists and musicians among us. A population of innovative thinkers will be vital for facing future challenges, and for the future of this country.

According to Kim:

Countries investing in creativity can expect new ways of life and of governance, new materials and tools, and new technologies and occupations that we cannot even begin to imagine. This is why it is so important for the U.S. to recognize the importance of, and place a premium on, fostering creativity and creativity research—to put it simply, so the U.S. does not get left behind. 

So what is causing the creativity crisis? Proposed culprits have included an emphasis in schools on standardized testing and “in the box” learning, heavy cuts to arts education, and an increase in television viewing.

While the problems at the school level are not easily solved, Kim says parents can have a huge effect on their children’s creative capacity by taking these simple steps:

  • Provide an environment in the home that supports creativity and emphasizes the arts. Encourage activities that foster creative thinking, like painting, drawing, sculpting with play dough or clay, crafting and DIY, building, playing and listening to music, and dress up and dramatic play. For students enrolled in K12 Art courses, many of these art supplies are included with course materials. Consider making supplies accessible to kids and encourage artistic expression outside of school time.
  • Preserve creativity by satisfying children’s natural curiosity. When children are at the age where they ask tons of questions, parents should do their best not to get annoyed, and instead try to provide or seek out the answers. Better still, teach children how to find the answers themselves.
  • Focus more on original ideas, and less on “getting the right answer”. Kim explains that parents should encourage imagination and original ideas in children’s writing and drawings, rather than focusing on spelling errors or accurate depictions. Children can be taught to catch and fix mistakes, but creativity is much more difficult to teach.
  • Encourage unconventional approaches to problems. Provide choices and allow students to use alternative methods of demonstrating their learning. By allowing a variety of activities and topics to study, parents and teachers can encourage creative thinking. The K12 curriculum allows for choice by including a range of optional lessons and activities for students and learning coaches to choose from.
  • Limit passive activities, like television viewing. Interestingly, researchers disagree on the effects of video games. Some creativity experts believe both gaming and television are detrimental to creative thinking, however a study published earlier this year found a positive correlation between playing games and increased creativity in children. Further studies will no doubt focus on this link, but it’s still best to set reasonable limits on gaming and encourage other forms of creative and active play.
  • Play! Kim says parents should engage students in flexible and playful thinking and allow for spontaneity and the occasional silly answer, rather than attempting to force maturity.

By preserving and enhancing children’s natural creativity at home, parents can play an active role in solving society’s creativity crisis and raising the next generation of innovators.

Share with us in the comments: How do you encourage your child’s creativity?

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