Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Want to Destroy your Child's Creativity? Send Her to School

My opinion:
The curriculum and the structure of the school day work cohesively to stifle and destroy the natural creativity and curiosity of children. And as if that wasn't enough, the teachers and other children would effectively smother it anyway.I'm sure that writers and researchers who are far smarter than I am have written epics about how children are naturally curious and how important creative play is for their development. My own experiences with my children would actually prompt me to say that the opportunity for creative expression is as fundamental to child development as learning how to walk and talk.

My children can spend hours with paper, scissors, glue sticks, glitter, markers, stickers, pipe cleaners, play dough, plasticine, paint, popsicle sticks, toilet paper rolls and anything else that they can turn into art. They paint pine cones. They glue dried beans and seeds. They cut wrapping paper, magazines and boxes. They make cards for their cousins and grandparents. They make presents for their imaginary friends. They drip glue and they spill the glitter. They get messy.

And they DRAW.  Their drawings look nothing like the standard stick-figures and triangle-on-top-of-a-square houses that are common for other children their age.  My children have never seen the way that other children draw and I have never critiqued their drawings.  As a result, they are completely uninhibited in their creations.  And they draw prolificly.  In the last year, Anna and Holly have filled more than 80 36-page drawing tablets with carefully drawn masterpieces.  Many of the books have been made into stories:  Anna and Holly narrate each picture or series of pictures and I write down their stories for them.  Creative writing, anyone?

The point is, they do it because it is fundamentally in them to do it. I don't make them sit at the table and do a craft, draw a picture or write a story. I leave them alone to do whatever they want with whatever materials they choose. Very occasionally Anna, Holly or Jasmine will ask me to make something with her or to help her make something that she has seen on TV. Mostly they do not want to me interfere.

And isn't this the opposite of what would happen at school? In a Kindergarten setting, Holly would have access to about 1/100 of the materials that she has at home. And she would be lucky to have 20 minutes of 'creative time' before she was told to clean up because she and the rest of the class would have to move on to 'library time' or 'gym time'. So much for creativity.

And in the higher grades (I have taught Visual Art in Grades 5 - 8) there is no opportunity for creative artistic expression at all because the curriculum dictates what type of art the students must produce. Students are rarely motivated to produce the required pieces because the assignments are boring and trite, or else they are so sophisticated that the students don't even want to try to produce them for fear of not meeting the 'standard'. There are no other opportunities to be creative in the form of visual expression. Even projects are judged and critiqued for their relevance to the curriculum, and their creative expression is given no value.

And what about curiosity? Teachers have no time to answer the questions of curious children. And besides that, the teachers have curriculum to cover; they simple cannot have 20+ children all doing something different according to their individual curiosity, interests, strengths and inclinations. Also, other students are inclined to ridicule the children who show 'too much' interest in school and certain subject areas. The social 'rules' of the classroom restrict a child's natural enthusiasm for any area of study.

The term 'creative writing' is one of the biggest oxymorons that exists in school. How can a child write creatively when she knows she is writing for one purpose only? So that the teacher can mark what she has written. The Literacy Coaches and Consultants are always talking about how to motivate kids to write. My suggestion would be "Leave them alone."

It's a wonder that any person leaves highschool and goes on to become a graphic designer or a visual artist or a novelist or have any other type of career that involves creative expression. I have heard so many adults say "I'm not very creative" and I now know that that's because their natural creativity was destroyed in their early years in school. Creativity that is unappreciated or that is treated as irrelevant is soon hidden away by its owner.

Want to foster and protect creativity?  Never offer judgement on what your child produces.  Provide materials, opportunity and time.  Engage your own creativity by writing, knitting, painting or whatever interests you.  Show that you value the creative self-expression of others.

And, if you can, don't send your child to school.


  1. I've really been enjoying all your recent posts. Great stuff. This post is so spot on! With my own kids, my 6 year old loves to create stories. Every day, throughout the day, you can find him dancing around the room, dictating a completely original story. He's currently very into the L. Frank Baum Oz books, so he'll pull characters and story lines from those and mix them with his own original ideas. I often think about how he would never be able to do this if he was in school -- (A) they wouldn't let him dance around while he creates a story, and (B) he would be forced to actually write things down. I'll sometimes write for him while he dictates, if he requests it, and sometimes he'll draw picture after picture after picture to create his story, with a few words here and there. He's been reading for years, but just isn't into writing. But he's filled a 100 page sketch book with pictures in just a few days! If he went to school, he'd be forced to write, and I'll bet his interest in creating stories would be completely squashed.

    Oh, and I was always labeled "the artistic one" at my house and at school (and I did become a graphic designer) but my sisters often comment that they have "no artistic talent" and "aren't creative" -- and yet, they were and are! I still see signs of it when they make their own cards or decorate a gift for one of my kids, etc. I think it's such a shame that people discount their own abilities so readily.

  2. Thank you for putting it all out there so eloquently as you do. I am sad to believe that formal schools that foster creativity are the exception rather than the rule, especially since the overwhelming majority of children attend them. But, I've also done a lot of reading on who/why our school systems are the way they are.

    Like you, I want a different, messy, creative experience for my kids. I love being in a room with homeschool kids, they're fundamental view of the world is different and I like it.