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Nurturing Creative Children – What will it take?

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Creativity is widely acknowledged to be a highly desirable – if not critical – skill for the future. What are the factors that support the development of such a complex construct? How can such an essential skill be nurtured in homes and schools?

These were some of the many provoking questions pondered over in a panel discussion organised by The HEAD Foundation (THF) on 20 April 2016.

Over 90 people gathered to hear experts in the fields of education and the cognitive sciences share their views on creativity and the development of creative thinking skills. The panellists were Mrs Belinda Charles, Dean of the Academy of Principals (Singapore), Ms Cheryl Chia, Founder and Research Director of Brainfit® Studios, and THF’s very own Principal Researcher, Dr Uma Natarajan.

Dr Natarajan began by defining creativity as a process, where things are created through the use of imagination and original ideas. Quoting educationalist Sir Ken Robinson, she identified creativity as a process, rather than a single event. “There is not a (particular) model, a factor or a formula for creativity,” she observed.

Dr Natarajan also acknowledged that whether creativity is a case of “just do it” versus “just doing right” is really up to us to consider. Creativity is also developed by the acceptance of failure, and it is permissible to ask ‘stupid’ questions. Dr Natarajan also suggested that kids should ask more questions freely to learn creativity, given that many of them stop asking questions in middle school due to the culture of “being told to shut up”.

Ms Cheryl Chua approached the issue of creativity from a neuroscience perspective. Research has disproved the assumption that creativity is developed from a single side of the brain. “Creativity does not involve a single side of the brain region,” Ms Chua said. Rather, cognition results from the dynamic interactions of brain areas operating in large-scale networks.

One of the key neural networks in which creative people show higher activity is the Default Mode Network – also known as the Daydreaming/Imagination Network. Ms Chua thus emphasised the importance of giving children ample space and time to daydream, as this network is related to wakeful rest and mind-wandering. Interestingly, this same network is also associated with social cognition or the capacity to recognise emotions and to empathise with others.

As creativity involves divergent thinking as well as convergent thinking, schools can play a role in developing divergent thinking skills by going beyond the emphasis on getting “one correct answer”.

Next, Mrs Belinda Charles highlighted the crucial role of purpose and language in creativity development. “When you keep on doing things because you are told to, that is the thing that kills creativity,” she said. Yet, many students learn – not for the love of learning – but to get somewhere.

Creativity itself is a basic learning process, a process of connecting things, said Mrs Charles. What creativity needs, however, is a community where members can feel safe, can trust, feel significant, and can synthesize ideas that are being exchanged within the community.

She also emphasised the need for suitable language to help articulate and communicate ideas – such as the language of questions, of relational thinking, of positive thinking.

The discussion was extended to a sharing session among the three panellists, talking on topics such as ways to encourage the act of daydreaming, and the roles that schools can contribute to nurture creativity.

An engaging Question and Answer session followed, with audience members raising concerns on issues ranging from whether productivity and creativity go hand in hand, to the consideration of solutions for children of low-income families to develop and nurture creativity, and whether creativity can actually be graded.

Lecture Video of "Nurturing Creative Children - What will it take?"