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

Child-Led Solar System Exploration

I’ve been greatly influenced by both Montessori and Reggio Emilia philosophies in which we are encouraged to “follow the child” and explore using “the hundred languages of children“. This is where this next exploration came from: V’s interest in working on a project and exploring it through different materials.

A few weeks ago V was telling me about a project some of her classmates had been working on at school. She decided that she wanted to work on it at home. She needed: black paper, pencil crayons, and play doh. The project subject: The Solar System.

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Her first task was to draw the planets. Referring to a Magic School Bus Space poster that we had, Violet started by drawing the sun, followed by colouring each planet in relation to it’s proximity from the sun all while carefully selecting colours that reflect the planet’s characteristics.

I’m not going to say she was all that careful about her drawing! At times I wanted to say “Slow down!” or “Colour more carefully” but I resisted critiquing and instead quickly became envious of her free flowing approach to drawing. I might have reminded her to make it a sphere or circle here or there… I couldn’t resist!

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

As we went along we discussed some key characteristics of each planet:

Mercury: Lots of craters, Very hot and no water.

Venus: Clouds of deadly yellow poison called sulfuric acid. Covered with rocks.

Earth: Only planet in our solar system with oxygen and liquid water. Rocky planet.

Mars: The iron in soil makes the planet red. All water is frozen in polar ice caps.

Jupiter: Largest planet and has 16 moons. Made up mostly of gas.

Saturn: Surrounded by rings of ice, rock, and dust. Made up of gas.

Uranus: The gas methane makes the planet look blue-green. Travels around the sun on its side.

Neptune: Cold, dark, and blue. Strong wind.

V went on to sculpt some of the planets as well as the sun and the moon. I went off to do something else and came back to Saturn…

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

.. and Earth.. V: “The green is the grass and blue is the water.”

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.comI’m not sure she ever completed every planet but she felt satisfied with her solar system exploration.

A few days later, V came home with her school solar system project! Goes to show that just because they’ve done it once doesn’t mean they can’t practice it again.. especially when the interest is there!

Child-Led Solar System project, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

A Purposeful Online Game Experience – Quandary

With all of the discussion around how much screen time children should or shouldn’t be getting and with it being Screen Free Week, I was intrigued when I came across this online game with the goal of engaging students in practicing decision making with the focus on ethical issues and solving moral dilemmas.

The question Quandary in the Classroom raises for me is: In what ways can technology in the form of games challenge students to practice critical thinking, decision making and collaboration?

“The aim of the game Quandary is to solve moral dilemmas on behalf of and for the good of the colony Braxos and you are the captain of the colony who is in charge of making those decisions.”

Children are given facts and problems then empowered to make decisions.  One little guy in the video says “I come from a big family so I never get to make decisions..” It was cute, yet sad and probably true for a lot of children in all sorts of families big and small.

Another little guy in the video says “The game had a pretty good UI…” !  He knows what a UI is?!  Impressive!  (User Interface for anyone reading and wondering…)

His comment reminds us that children are living in a world much different than the world we grew up in, particularly if you were born before 1990… Which makes me think that technology based games that engage kids and teens to think independently and practice decision making based on ethical principles is nothing short of really awesome.

What’s more is that it’s a free online game! Check it out. What do you think?

This game reminds me of ‘The Adventures of Meep on Earth’ game that my team and I created back in 2000 to help children manage emotions and feelings of anger. As our alien, Meep, experienced new encounters on his journey on earth for the first time, he would model ways to self regulate his emotions.  Children learned the technique of Stop – take a deep breath, Think and Talk – express how you feel. That was back in the days of cd-roms! I bet that UI kid doesn’t know what a cd-rom is!

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?

 

A Celebration of Artful Memories!

Giveaway Winner, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Thank you to everyone who entered The Artful Parent book giveaway! Congratulation to Kristal, our giveaway winner!

When I asked you to leave a comment sharing your favourite childhood artful moment I didn’t realize what a great collection of inspiring stories I would hear. I loved reading each and every one of your artful experiences! I felt as though I was able to get a glimpse into your childhood memories; moments that I could tell you hold dear to you.

Many of your memories included engaging with nature and exploring. Several recounted stories of mothers and fathers leading by example with their own creative endeavours and creating opportunities for art making. So many great ideas came out of this that I want to highlight them here.

Favourite Artful Memories:

  • Decorating cookies with mom in the kitchen!
  • Treasure hunt through the trails collecting treasures and natural materials to including making a home-made books with stories about the walk.
  • Stamping using potatoes.
  • Making cards using pressed flowers.
  • Designing wrapping paper by painting or stamping brown parchment paper.
  • Sewing costumes using mom’s extra fabric and setting up a backyard circus to perform in!
  • Body tracing on giant sheets of paper and making paper clothes to dress the life sized you!
  • Making God’s Eyes using sticks from the insides of cactus trees and yarn.. going back to the 70’s!
  • Weaving a mat from newspapers inspired by an ‘Encycolpedia of Crafts’ book.

What has really come through is that all of these artful experiences were born out of the following…

  • Allowing children the freedom to decide what they want to do and give them the space and tools to do it. Example: Jake’s daughter creating a book from scratch called “My Book of School”. He shares Mia’s story here.

IDWIL - artful moment, https://projectidwil.squarespace.com/blog/mias-art-no-permission

  • Providing children with not only a space to create but one that suits their needs. Megan’s bright red family art table with legs cut down to ‘kids size’ is the perfect example of that!
  • Inviting children to engage in a creative project like making the centrepiece for the living room table for a special occasion.
  • Prompting children with an idea (like taking found materials) and providing the freedom to explore and express themselves.
  • Modelling creativity such as seeing a parent sew, knit/crochet, dance, build etc.
  • Encouraging creativity.
  • Celebrating creativity.  Two great examples were shared: 1) celebrating and encouraging a children’s work by covering a wall with her creations and 2) honouring a child’s home-made tree ornament by bringing it out and hanging it on the Christmas tree every year!
  • Spending time with mom and dad whether it be in the kitchen, at the craft table or in nature. This came through as the warmest and dearest family creative memories!

A wonderful artist friend of mine coincidentally posted this beautiful photograph of her artist mother making art with her in her studio today. With her permission I’m sharing it here because apart from the fact that everything in this photo is beautiful, including the colouring and composition, I was struck by what a fantastic example this is of sharing creativity! Most definitely an artful memory captured perfectly!

http://www.lalyblue.com

Thank you for sharing your stories! It was so much fun to welcome new visitors here and I especially LOVED hearing about all of your artful moments from your childhoods and artful moments in the present with your own children!

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!

Video: The Importance of Creativity

The Importance of Creativity is a video that speaks to my passion for nurturing creativity in children:

Our children need key 21st century skills like the four C’s of COMMUNICATION, COLLABORATION, CREATIVITY and CRITICAL THINKING.

Oh how I wish there was a Children’s Creativity Museum close to me like this museum that’s in San Francisco! Truly an inspirational place, this museum features an animation studio, a community lab, a design studio, imagination lab, innovation lab, music studio, and spiral gallery which is currently showcasing an exhibit called: The World Through the Eyes of Children. How beautiful would that be? It’s an exhibition showcasing over 100 pieces of art work created by children from around the world that “aims to promote insight and understanding of children and youth art and culture from various parts of the world.” Oh, how I wish I could attend this museum on a weekly basis!

Video Screenshot: The Importance of Creativity

Every time I visit their website and blog I’m full of inspirational ideas to create and make and innovate! Forget the kids, I want to make stuff! 😉  Just kidding, (well, not really) but I have a few ideas for March Break projects…

 

Play Dough Creations!

Play-Doh Original Canister

If you make it they will come. And who knows what they will make out of it!? The “it” in this case is play dough and “they” are children!

Play dough is fun. It’s easy. It’s open ended. It’s for all ages. It’s therapeutic. It exercises the imagination. It practices fine motor skills. It feels good on the hands!

I have to admit that I have a nostalgic connection to store bought Play Doh. The smell alone brings me back to my childhood but I’ve been getting tired of seeing it dry out as the little containers are just not designed for little hands. Perhaps that was intentional.. so that they’d need adult assistance to open! They just don’t seem to get closed again!

In any case, I decided to finally look up some homemade play dough recipes and make our own. There are certainly no shortage of recipes found online! I went with DIY PLAYDOUGH found over at Modern Parents Messy Kids. The photos on this DIY post are fantastic and I thought the Jell-O ingredient was sort of interesting.

DIY Play Dough

The result was perfectly smooth and squishy dough with a nice fruity scent! It was actually quite easy to make apart from a little arm muscle action required to constantly stir the goop that eventually formed into a nice clump of dough.

Homemade Play Dough, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

We made two colours: blue and yellow. A little while later my five year old independently came up with her creation…

Homemade Play Dough Bird Mermaid, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

Watching the magic happen, ie. what children do with the dough, is like getting a glimpse into their little minds.

 

Homemade Play Dough Bird Mermaid, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

A bird – mermaid!

A day later another artistic project was underway. This time inspired by Monet. Yes, you read that right, Claude Monet. The night before we had read Katie Meets The Impressionists (worthy of a blog post of it’s own) which includes the work of Claude Monet. While at the library we picked up a children’s book about Monet that describes the large area of colourful brush strokes in his art. This is the page that undoubtedly inspired her next creation:

Claude Monet Book explanation of Impressionist Art

This is what she made:

Homemade Play Dough Art, http://keepingcreativityalive.com

How umm.. unique! Before I could say “tell me about this,” Violet announced “This is a gift for you Mommy!  It’s a globe in the style of Claude Monet. If you stand back it looks like the world.” – Brilliant!

For step by step directions on how to make the play dough, visit Modern Parents Messy Kids.

If you’re already familiar with the play dough making process, these are the ingredients you will need:

  • white flour – 1 cup
  • warm water – 1 cup
  • salt – 2 tbsp
  • cream of tartar – 2 tbsp
  • cooking oil – 2 tbsp
  • Jello – 1 3oz pack

Have fun and please share your little artists’ creations! What do your children like to do or make with play dough?

Giving Thanks

We spent most of this past weekend at our family cottage enjoying the gorgeous colours of the fall on this wonderful Thanksgiving weekend.

Breathing in fresh air seems to awaken my creative spirit. I find that all I want to do is get creative when I’m up there. This time we decided to make place card stones to place on our table for the big dinner (inspired by The Artful Parent’s Thankful Stones).  We successfully played around with the project at home a couple of weeks ago…

… but this time our crayon colours came out too dark and it was too hard to read the names.

Right about the time that we were discovering that our project wasn’t working so great, my handy dad appeared with a piece of birch trunk and offered to cut it up into small discs that we could use for name cards for our Thanksgiving dinner table. He’s very creative! They worked out great!

In honour of giving thanks on this beautiful Thanksgiving weekend, I decided that we could use the extra birch pieces to play a fun game. This is how it worked:

When everyone arrived for dinner I asked each person to write or draw what they are thankful for on the piece of wood and secretly put it in this paper bag.

Once I had them all, I displayed them in the center of our table for all to enjoy during dinner.

At the end of our dinner we had fun reading the thankful words, drawings, and messages and guessing who they came from!

We had a blast guessing who wrote what. Some were obvious, others not so much! We all guessed wrong for “walks with mom and dad”. Turns out it was Archie’s, my brother’s dog!

Happy Thanksgiving to all that are celebrating today!