Let me begin by saying all children are creative. But somewhere along the way society stifles their creativity. My hope is that this post will inspire you and others to tap into and encourage this creative curiosity.
For many, “creative” is a scary word. For others, a badge of honor to be worn and flaunted. But to the true creatives, it simply describes who they are, what they do, and how they do it.
Webster’s defines creative as,
Having or showing an ability to make new things or think of new ideas.
I’ve taught many kids who fall into the “creative” category. Though contrasting in many ways, such as temperament and work habits, they all have one thing in common – they’re unique. Don’t read into my tone. I don’t mean this in a negative way. But in a way that is sincere to who they are as uniquely “creative” individuals.
In his popular blog post 20 Things Only Highly Creative People Would Understand, Kevin Kaiser says this about creative people,
1.) They have a mind that never slows down.
2.) They have difficulty staying on task.
3.) They need space to create.
4.) They focus intensely.
5.) They feel deeply.
If you love a highly creative person, you probably experience moments when it seems like they live in a completely different world than you. Truth is, they do. But trying to change them isn’t nearly as effective as trying to understand them.
I learned early in my career that teaching the right-brained kids the same way I taught the left-brained kids wasn’t going to work! (Fun Fact – right brain vs. left brain is actually a myth. Read about it here.)
I made the learning process painful for them (and myself) through forcing them to conform to my regular teaching style. Thankfully, I learned to adapt my approach and quickly became a greater service to my students and their families.
Are you struggling to teach your creative child? Do your creative students seem disengaged in class? There are steps you can take to re-engage these children and see vast improvements in their learning.
Don’t try and make creative students conform to learning regiments that work for “most” kids.
The current education system operates on an outdated model developed alongside the nineteenth-century industrial revolution. In his book, Industrialization and Public Education, Jim Carl says,
As educational access widened, […] the study of the classical curriculum declined, and, by the twentieth-century, the importance of schooling for both national economic development and individual mobility took on the status of an “education gospel.”
Unfortunately, students are born and raised to be cogs in a machine. Seth Godin explains,
Since you were five, schools and society have been teaching you to be a cog in the machine of our economy. To do what you’re told, to sit in straight lines and to get the work done.
Forcing creative students to conform to a set of rules that vehemently opposes their nature is counterproductive at best and downright destructive at worst!
Camden, one of my past piano students, fell into the “creative” category. I was excited to take him on as a student because he exhibited more zeal for the instrument than most beginning students. I quickly became frustrated when he showed up unrehearsed week after week. I told his mother that he needed to sit at the piano for at least 30-minutes per day. She agreed, and that’s what he did. He SAT at the piano 30-minutes each day. He wasn’t actively pursuing his studies. He was bored out of his mind!
I sat down with him and his mother at the following lesson to discuss a new game plan. You see, I realized that I had been approaching our lessons in the wrong way. My approach was stifling his creativity and ability to learn the piano in his unique way. I began asking him to bring one piece each week that he was excited to play. His eyes lit up! “Really,” he said, “I get to pick my music?” Allowing him the freedom to choose just one piece per week had positive effects on his passion for learning the instrument.
I told his mother not to worry too much if he didn’t practice for exactly 30-minutes each day. I encouraged her to let him practice at his pace – 5-minutes here, 10-minutes there. I saw vast improvements in his playing and ability to focus. Most importantly, I didn’t squash his zeal for learning how to play the piano!
Of course, there were days when he showed up unprepared, and he occasionally had bouts of unproductive activity. But this became a rarity instead of the norm.
Giving a creative child space to digest material in his way is one path to successful education.
Once you’ve found the “secret sauce” for what makes your creative students tick, spread it on thick!
One of my past piano students hated classical music. I mean she hated it so much as to leave these particular piano books at home on purpose before attending her weekly lesson! She would have never admitted to this, but I knew what she was up to. “Oh, Mr. Chris,” she’d say, “I totally left the Beethoven book on my piano. I’m so sorry!”
Sure she was…But I digress.
Now, I believe it’s important for every music student to have a healthy diet of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart. But if it ain’t what makes a student tick, then it ain’t gonna cause her to pursue her craft with passion and excellence.
Once you find the “secret sauce,” spread it on thick!
I quickly realized that this particular student enjoyed music with a funky groove and sweet harmony. She loved jazz! We began to focus on tunes such as Straight No Chaser, Autumn Leaves, So What, among other classic jazz tunes in her weekly lessons. Her love for learning increased exponentially. She even brought the classical piano books now and again!
Form environments that encourage creativity.
In their blog post Teaching for Creativity, written for The Center for Development and Learning, scholars Robert Sternberg and Wendy M. Williams write,
We routinely witness creativity in young children, but it is hard to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity. We begin to suppress children’s natural creativity when we expect them to color within the lines in their coloring books.
This resonates with me.
I have to make sure that I don’t discourage my young, budding artist when she’s crafting her Crayola masterpieces. I catch myself wanting to say, “Sweetie, make sure you color in between the lines.” Or, “Don’t you think her hair should be brown instead of purple?” But I must give her space to create.
I need to form an environment where she feels free and safe to explore and express herself. To be creative!
All children are unique and learn things differently from one another. Don’t try to conform the creative child. Don’t underestimate his ability to learn things in his way.
He still needs guidance.
Guide your student in a way that compliments his ability to learn and form a safe environment that promotes creativity.
I leave you with this thought-provoking quote by Seth Godin –
If we give kids the foundation to dream, they will figure out the grammar and the history the minute it helps them to reach their goals and make a difference.
You possess the tools for teaching creative children. You just need permission to use them.
Ladies and gentlemen, you have permission.