Divergent Thinking with Preschoolers

Divergent Thinking Activity

Divergent thinking: a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Young kids do this naturally yet by the time they reach fourth grade creativity scores show a steep decline (source, source). So the question becomes: HOW do we harness children’s natural creative thinking abilities when they are young so that they can develop and strengthen into strong independent thinkers well into the middle school years and beyond?

The answer is both simple and complex.

Simple because like strengthening any muscle – physical or mental – the answer is practice, repetition, consistency and ultimately forming the habit. In this case the creative thinking habit.

Where this becomes more complex is the actual implementation of HOW to do this? One such way is to practice deliberate creative thinking skills.


How To Strengthen Creative Thinking Skills

Today, let’s start with one simple first step you can take in the direction of celebrating creative thinking in the children in your life or classroom through a divergent thinking exercise!

The key to establishing an environment for this type of creative thinking is to follow the following guidelines:

1) Welcome All Ideas

Establish an open environment where children are free to express their ideas.

2) No Wrong Answers

Whatever comes to mind goes!

3) Best To Not Judge Responses (Good or Bad)

This goes both ways – positively OR negatively. To establish a climate free of judgment we must not diminish or praise ideas presented. That goes for ideas of others and also ideas of our own.

I’ll be honest, I often find it hard not to smile the entire time new ideas are shared and it’s perfectly okay to celebrate the thinking –  it’s just best to refrain from passing judgment on any one idea.

4) No ONE Right Answer

The whole idea is to get away from the type of fixed mindset thinking that we are striving for one ‘right’ way of completing a task. Instead we are promoting possibility thinking!

5) Build On Other Ideas

We’re sometimes afraid to give a response that is similar to another but this is encouraged! Build on other ideas. Let your mind make associations, improve upon or modify what’s been stated.

6) Wild And Crazy Ideas Are Encouraged

This is all about having fun and pushing our thinking to come up with new and different solutions to challenges.


How To Set Up The Experience

If you have a group of children gather in a tight circle and start by holding up an object and asking ‘What is this?’ The answer may seem obvious ‘It’s a stick!’

stick

‘Yes, it is a stick. But what else could it be? Let’s use our imaginations to think about what else this could be!’

Explain that this is a silent turn taking activity. The person holding the object has the chance to show (demonstrate) and share (through words if necessary) their idea for what the object can be.

Give children a moment to think about it, then demonstrate by showing ONE way you might use the stick (i.e. playing golf, vacuuming, as a cane, a kite etc.).

Remember to remind the group that there are no wrong answers. Encourage the children to look at the object in different ways. Share what comes to mind. Build on others’ ideas!

Young kids diverge quite easily. The key here is to celebrate novel thinking and establish a climate where new ideas are welcome.

Depending on the size of the group consider going around the circle more than one time. Often more original and unique ideas come later in the idea generation process.


Extend The Learning

Follow up the activity by reading Not a Stick, or Not a Box by Antoinette Portis for more fun ideas to stretch their thinking.

Further extend the learning by encouraging children to select one idea they liked and make it using a stick (or whatever was used)!

Do This Regularly Using Different Objects

Ideas For Found Objects In Nature That Can Be Used:
  • a stick
  • a leaf
  • an acorn
  • a pinecone
  • evergreen bristles
  • a rock
  • a log
Additional Object Ideas:
  • a hat
  • a mug
  • a box
  • a hula hoop
  • a book

Creative thinking skills need to be practiced, celebrated and rewarded. Keep track of the number of ideas generated. Do this regularly and let me know if you see the difference over time!

Please leave a comment below letting me know how many ideas you come up with!

What it takes to Keep Creativity Alive

I’ve been thinking a great deal about this blog and what it means to me. It started with a passion to explore ways to nurture creativity in children. As I’ve researched and explored this topic further, I’ve discovered that it’s about that and so much more. So many ideas race through my mind about what it means to be creative and what makes us creative and for that reason I decided to encapsulate all of those thoughts in one place. Below is my graphic representation of all the things that come to mind when I think about what Keeping Creativity Alive is all about.

What is creativity about for you? Tell me, did I miss anything? 

Ideas for how to Nurture Creativity in Children, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Get out of their way!

“Kids are born curious. Period…. If you’re a child, you are curious about your environment. You’re overturning rocks. You’re plucking leaves off of trees and petals off of flowers, looking inside, and you’re doing things that create disorder in the lives of the adults around you.

 

And so then so what do adults do? They say, “Don’t pluck the petals off the flowers. I just spent money on that. Don’t play with the egg. It might break. Don’t….” Everything is a don’t.”

The key point Neil deGrasse Tyson makes?

“Help them explore.”

Set out some binoculars or a magnifying glass or something as equally interesting.. and most importantly get out of their way and let them explore!

Embrace the Shake

“Embracing a limitation can actually drive creativity.”

“Could you become more creative by looking for limitations?”

“We need at first to be limited to be limitless.”

 

This is a really cool talk on so many levels. Phil Hansen talks about the art making process, breaking through a creative slump, and embracing the shake and how thinking inside the box was his answer for creating art that was outside the box.

He’s also running a kickstarted campaign called “Tell me your Story about…” which has 5 days to go! A multimedia artist, Phil Hansen is ” interested in understanding people and ideas through the defining moments of our lives, how they affect us, and making art using mediums that are representative of these moments.”

I really dig the interactive nature of his art making process and how he uses people’s stories to create his work.

I’m inspired and reminded that limitations can really push the boundaries of your creative thinking. Hmm.. thinking of ways I can apply this to my own art making.. or that of my kids… Any ideas?

420 Characters: A Celebration of Creative Writing

Creative writing exercise 420 Characters, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Did you write short stories as a child? Do you write them anymore? If not, why not?

Writing is a powerfully liberating experience. One that allows you to express yourself, express an experience real or imagined and/or share a story. Writing, creative writing, makes me a little nervous, I’ll admit. But when you allow yourself to get in the ‘mode’ where you really consider your words, get descriptive and even a little poetic I actually find it to be a lot of fun.

I was recently invited to join a group called 420 Characters. 420 Characters is a creative writing group on Facebook where members write short stories using 420 characters or less to fit in a single facebook status entry. The goal is to reach 420 characters in a story, to reach 420 members in the group or to collect 420 stories.

It was a couple of weeks before I tried my hand at writing a story. Initially I thought I would just read along and comment, but one morning after reading some new entries inspiration struck. An idea came and I quickly worked at expressing my idea, choosing my words carefully and ensuring that the story met the 420 character limit.

My story is based on my passion, what drives this blog.

Here it is:

Creativity
Born to explore, investigate, learn.
Naturally curious, inquisitive,
Processing information constantly.
Making things, making connections.
Uninhibited experiments, intuitive markings,
The evolution of a true artist happens naturally.
Let it happen. Watch. Enjoy. Nurture.
Cultivate curious little minds into creatively confident adults.

The best gift you could give your child.

420 Characters was started by Suzi Poland, an artist and writer in Australia who is passionate about capturing moments of the everyday and celebrating them through drawing, painting, photography, textiles, illustration, and short stories. Anyone is welcome to submit a story.  You can learn more about 420 Characters and how to join here.

The above photograph shows a story that Violet drew and dictated when she was four.

Up until now my writing practice has gone as far as journalling, writing here on this blog and the occasional morning pages but I’m reminded through 420 Characters that writing is a wonderful form of expression. One that I’m going to try to practice more often. What about you, do you practice creative writing?

The best way to teach creativity?

I’m all about options and looking at things from different angles and perspectives. This is why when I saw this Ted talk by Raghava KK, it awakened an important realization for me in my quest to learn about ways to nurture creativity. The following statement (a screen capture) from Raghava’s talk, says it all:

Raghava KK on Creativity, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Looking at situations, things and issues from different perspectives brings to light so much more information and IDEAS, thinking, and as Raghava points out biases. This next screen capture further intrigued my desire to teach perspectives:

Raghava KK's Ted Talk, Shake up your story, http://keepingcreativityalive.comIt’s so true, isn’t it? Understanding others’ perspectives equals empathy. So how do we teach perspectives to children? Here are some of my thoughts…

How to teach perspective:

  • Share stories, lots of stories about different places, different people and different experiences. Leave your bias out of the equation. Celebrate differences!
  • Observe the different styles that are out there. Different types of architecture, different forms of art and dance. Different types of music. Everyone has their own preferences. Recognize this and foster the attitude that we are all unique and value different things.
  • Practice looking at a situation from different angles. Again, this could be done through storytelling or through real life situations. As different people how they felt or reacted to a situation, compare notes and observe the similarities and differences.
  • Look at art, the more obscure or abstract the better and talk about what you think it is about. Notice how different people will see different things based on their own observations and experiences.
  • See how different people approached the same challenge using similar materials in different ways. Give a group of kids the same materials (for example recycled materials such as toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, elastics, paper, tape etc.) and give them a challenge. The challenge could be to make something that floats, moves, flies, or whatever you decide.
  • Experience a different culture or community. This need not involve getting on an airplane, although it could. Maybe there’s a mennonite community nearby or a local community centre celebrating a cultural holiday that is different than your own.
  • “Give children books that teach them perspectives.” Raghava KK.  Select great books that are set in different places and that share different types of lifestyles than your own families. Books that show that there are many sides to a story.
  • Write a book together. This book can be about one event but told from the point of view of different characters.

I’m sure there are many other great ideas, please share your ideas in the comments!

Video: Thoughts on the Creative Career

“If you want to be something start being it. If you want to be a writer you should be writing. Not tomorrow, but today. If you want to be an artist you should be drawing and painting.. Not tomorrow. Today. If you want to be a stand up comic, write jokes and figure out somewhere to stand up and tell them.”

So well said I don’t really have anything to add.

Just want to highlight some key points:

  • If you’re not doing that thing, ask yourself why?
  • Realize your rhythm.. sometimes you can take on big questions, large problems, other times work on small solvable problems.
  • You should consume a lot of things that you like.
  • You should get your work in front of other people.
  • If you want to do something you should just do it… Make it a choice. Choose to do that. If you want to write, write!

Around this time last year I posted his video An Invocation for Beginners. You can see more of Ze Frank’s videos on his website.

Is there something you want to be but not doing it? A running? A yogi? An artist? What do you need to start doing today?

Creativity Week Day 1: Divergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking with Kids: Brainstorming Ideas! http://keepingcreativityalive.com

With World Creativity & Innovation week upon us I’ve been thinking of ways to celebrate!  Being creative on cue can sometimes feel overwhelming so I took a step back and decided to hold a good old fashioned brainstorm session with my girls to come up with ways that we can be creative this week!

I love brainstorming! If you love making lists you’ll love it too. Brainstorming is one way of practicing divergent thinking: a way of generating several possible solutions to a problem. To be clear, divergent thinking is a technique for thinking; brainstorming is a tool used to think divergently.

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions.

Me: “We’re going to brainstorm ideas!” V: “What’s a brainstorm?”

Explaining how to brainstorm to a five year old is tricky. I kept it simple and explained that we would be coming up with a lot of ideas and we would choose our favourites later so we don’t need to decide if we like them or not just yet.

The General Rules of Brainstorming

The four general rules of brainstorming established by Alex Osborn, a pioneer of Creative Problem Solving and brainstorming sessions, (taken from Wikipedia) are:

  1. Focus on quantity. The more ideas the better. “Quantity breeds quality.”
  2. Withhold criticism.  Defer judgment of ideas so that participants feel free to generate unusual ideas. Focus on adding ideas, not evaluating them.
  3. Welcome wild and unusual ideas. Think big. Think differently. New ways of thinking is encouraged and could provide better solutions so don’t hold back.
  4. Combine and improve ideas. Build on ideas by combining to form a better single idea or simply add to what has already been provided.

Okay, our experience…

We kept the problem simple: “What are some creative activities we could work on this week?” The way the question is phrased is important. Having typed that out I just realized that had I phrased it “In what ways might we celebrate Creativity Week?” our ideas would likely have gone in a completely different direction! … Throw a party! Make a cake! I’ll have to give that further thought next time.

I went into this with the best of intentions. Having worked in a creative field and having attended a CPSI conference I recognize the value of practicing divergent thinking and I figure it’s never too early to practice this with my daughters. Well.. they had a different idea about what they wanted to do…

E was enthralled with the brainstorming ‘tools’… Okay, she’s only two... 🙂

keepingcreativityalive.com

… and I lost V when she decided to start working on her creative idea… 🙂

http://keepingcreativityalive.com

.. but I carried on with the brainstorm and V jumped in from time to time approving or disapproving of ideas (we need to work on withholding judgement!) and adding some of her own. (The squiggled post it notes are the ideas she chose to write herself. When I asked her what they said she replied: “You just can’t read my writing, can you??”)

That was our first family brainstorm! I’m sure the first of many to come.

In what ways might you celebrate Creativity & Innovation week?

 

The #1 material of choice in our house…

Top 3 reasons tape is awesome for kids!  http://keepingcreativityalive.com

It’s fascinating, really, discovering what children will do with materials when left to their own devices. The other day, for example, as we were preparing dinner V ran through the kitchen with wings taped to her arms declaring ‘I can fly! I can fly!’ Which led me to think ‘wow.. all kids really need is their imaginations… and TAPE!?’

So here it is, the Top 3 reasons tape is awesome for kids:

  1. It’s accessible. Get a roll of tape and a dispenser and they’re off! (The dispenser is key for breaking off pieces of tape with reduced frustration, not to mention avoiding the challenge of having to find the end!)
  2. It’s not as messy as glue. ‘Nough said.
  3. It’s an instant adhesive – no dry time! Make sure to teach them the roll tape trick!

This then led me to think of all the other times tape was the #1 material of choice and…

Ten reasons kids love tape!  http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Our top 10 uses for tape:

  1. You can tape tissue to your arms and have instant wings!
  2. You can FIX ANYTHING. 10 reasons kids love tape!  http://keepingcreativityalive.comAs I was taking this photo.. V says “That thing used to be broken but I fixed it.” Ha! LOL
  3. You can stick things on the wall. 10 reasons kids love tape!  http://keepingcreativityalive.com
  4. You can create your own art gallery.10 reasons kids love tape!  http://keepingcreativityalive.com
  5. You can make stuff stick together instantly when glue doesn’t work.
  6. You can make diamond rings!10 reasons kids love tape!  http://keepingcreativityalive.com
  7. You can make crafts in an instant.
  8. YOu can tape a tail to your bottom (or your sister’s bottom) and pretend your an animal of your choice. 10 reasons kids love tape!  http://keepingcreativityalive.com
  9. You can tape signs to your door – or anywhere really to get a message out there, or for when the tooth fairy forgets!
  10. Your ideas here!!

Do your children love tape? Please tell me your kids do crazy things with tape too!?  Please do share in the comments!

Field Trip : Hamilton Children’s Museum

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Inspired by the Children’s Creativity Museum in San Francisco, we decided to check out our local Children’s Museum! Totally on a different scale and calibre but overall I’d have to say that our outing was successful.

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

The kids were engaged…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

They observed…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

They collaborated…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

They created…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

And they practiced critical thinking…

Children's Museum - http://keepingcreativityalive.com

My take away from our experience is that overall it’s a fun place to visit. It has also inspired me to further establish mini creative areas in our home to inspire collaboration, creativity, critical thinking. How cool would it be to have a felt wall at home?!

Have you been to a Children’s Museum? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought of it.

The Association of Children’s Museum’s lists Children’s Museums Around the World and in The United States.