Does Creativity Peak At Age Seven?

I have wondered this for a very long time. Is that why adults do not view themselves as creative – it peaked long ago?

This question hits me at home presently. I have a seven year old daughter who is extremely creative. She draws pictures and makes up stories about them, and they are truly original and ingenious. She is heavily into My Little Pony right now, so a lot of times her stories involve ponies that she has drawn. Sometimes they are ponies from the series and sometimes she makes up her own ponies. But the creativity involved in her stories is truly breath-taking.

Since I started becoming interested in creativity, I have wondered why adults feel that they aren’t creative. A few years ago, I was actually one of them. I wondered if I could change my mindset and actually become creative again. I wasn’t sure. I wanted to figure out why.

My research has pointed more and more to education and the way children are taught as being key to why people don’t view themselves as creative. Children are taught as they are sitting at a desk. Younger children are allowed to sit on a carpet sometimes, but for the most part they are sitting. And they are tasked with listening to the teacher talk to them, most of the time. I actually heard one of my daughter’s former teachers call her class “chatter monsters” when they were trying to get their ideas heard over her. And the context of the experience that they were having left much to be desired as well. All of the children were sitting on a carpet that clearly was not big enough for all of them to sit together comfortably. They were packed on this carpet. Needless to say, it took about five minutes for the pushing to stop as the teacher threatened the children with some type of punishment if they did not behave. Then we had the chatter monsters. The teacher handed the children individual whiteboards, markers, and socks to use as erasers, and then told them what to write. Any children who were not writing what she said or were writing when she hadn’t told them what to write or were writing something different than what she said were punished. (The punishment, by the way, was taking away coins that were used to earn a trip to the treasure box on Fridays). There was no creativity involved in the activity and no opportunity for children to express themselves. The whole time that I volunteered that day, it was the same thing. All of the activities were cut and dry with no chance for individual expression. Worksheets and sitting, no talking out of turn, nothing but what the worksheet or the teacher wanted done.

Joseph Berk, in his article about engineers that I featured yesterday, stated that he thought that the rules that are in place during school is what causes creativity to peak so early. While I partially agree with him, rules are needed in society in order to keep things running safely. (We could get into a discussion about government and overreach into society here, but this isn’t the time or the place; we are focused on education. However, if you want to assert your own creativity, we can have a discussion about that in the comments.) There is such a thing as rules becoming too restraining, however, and this can definitely affect creativity. Requiring children to sit together in a tight space without pushing or touching anyone else is simply asking for trouble. Making children learn academic information within a prescribed box (worksheets, flashcards) is a sure way to suck the creativity right out of a child. When children are not allowed to express themselves, and are in fact punished for doing so, they soon learn to not be creative. And since the majority of people feel that creativity peaks at age seven, learning to not be creative happens very quickly – within two years of starting school. With at least eleven more years of school left, creativity would seem to not have a chance.

In thinking about that last sentence, my thoughts ran back to my years in high school. Every high school has their cliques, and mine was no different. But my mind came back to the people that I began to associate with in my later high school years. They were most likely in an extracurricular music class or in drama. They were the ones that drew insanely awesome pictures during class and knew how to not get caught doing it. They had conversations in class, trying to figure out who was the greatest guitar player that ever lived. These were the kids who were creative for creativity’s sake. I envied those kids because their attitude about school was entirely different than mine. I envied the musicians because they were so creative that they could jam and improvise, and I couldn’t. I was strictly and literally a textbook musician, and I was that way when it came to school as well. I still am when it comes to school. But in learning more about different facets of our education system, I have allowed myself to be more creative in the classroom. And this, in turn, has allowed me to let my children be more creative as well.

It has also allowed me to look at my daughter and realize that I need to do everything I can to provide her a place where she can feel free to create her stories and her pictures, to find an outlet for these stories that she seems to spontaneously come up with. She needs to have a place where she can hone that creative skill so that it will not die in the eleven years of school she has left. My older daughter shows me that she still has creativity all of the time, letting me know that I have not failed her in that way – not yet. She is actually planning on becoming an engineer, and I see little pieces of what Joseph Berk was talking about when she talks about her work in her architecture classes. But she is passionate and creative and hopefully won’t lose that as she learns all of the rules and regulations involved in engineering.

And me? My outlet is this blog, and my classroom. I find myself being insanely creative in my classroom, and I have a class of wonderful children whose creativity inspire it in me. It is almost like we feed each other. I enjoy giving them a creative outlet, because in three or four years, when they start elementary school, they may not have that outlet any more. But the more I foster their creative little minds now, the better chance they may have later.

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In A Reframing State of Mind: Finding Leaders

Yes, I got a new idea for a new series, called “In a Reframing State of Mind”. This series is dedicated to looking at children’s behaviors in such a way that we will discover positive intent rather than negative intent. And nine times out of ten, I am sure that they will detail some of my own personal experiences in the classroom. I hope you will enjoy.

Recently I began a new topic of study in my classroom: Houses. The story we are using to facilitate this study is The Three Little Pigs. I began reading the story to the children, but only got halfway through it when one of them suggested that we build a house. So we got up, moved some tables out of the way, and proceeded to build walls for a house.

Building a house with two- and three-year-olds is an interesting process because they haven’t developed the ability to think abstractly. When they think about a house, they visualize the outside of the house. Therefore, most of their building of a house involves the outside of the house. They don’t even think about the inside of a house.

Bear with me here. I am brainstorming as I type because this thought actually never occurred to me before. It occurs to me now because I have wondered how our beautiful house – complete with walls, a bedroom, a kitchen, a front door, and a garage – quickly became a swimming pool. But it makes sense. The square walls totally resemble a swimming pool to a three-year-old mind, especially now that it is June and swimming with families is becoming more frequent.

One child in particular was responsible for this change of direction involving our house building. Granted, it was probably way too early in the house-building process to start discussing rooms and such, but – like most teachers – I had a vision of what I wanted to do with this theme.

Swimming pools was not it. But I let it ride, mostly because I had a parent come to pick up in the middle of the process, and I was discussing with her some of the things I had seen her child do that day. And when I turned back around after the parent left, every child in the room had their shoes off and was wading in the “pool”.

Now, I don’t know about anyone else’s center, but in my center we have a policy that states that shoes must be left on in case we have to leave the building in case of an emergency. In my own space and on my own time, I would not have a problem with the shoes being off as long as we knew who’s shoes and socks were whose and could pair them back up with the appropriate children at the end of the exploration. But I was not in my own space or on my own time, so the long process of putting shoes back on began.

It was actually a pretty sobering experience, because all of the children let me know, with words that I had taught them to use in situations such as this, that they were very mad and did not like it. The child who came up with the idea began to cry, because it was a pool! We don’t wear shoes in the pool! And I totally got it, but rules are rules and we can’t have our shoes off in the classroom.

At the time I was very upset with the child who came up with the idea. At first because it messed up my plan, but when I finally came to terms that swimming in a pool was what we were going to be doing that afternoon, I got over that. But it was harder to get over the fit over the shoes, because this involved rules.

Later, when I got home and was able to reflect on the day, I realized something: this child has consistently shown amazing leadership. The fact that she came up with a plan to dramatize the pool so completely, and got her friends to go along with it when we were intent on building a house, showed leadership. She comes up with games all of the time, or new ways to dramatize ideas. She “bosses” other children constantly, but this can be redirected into constructive feedback and positive coaching. She can be taught how to be a constructive leader by being given leadership responsibilities (appropriate for a three-year-old, of course) that will teach her skills that she needs to be a productive leader. Words that she uses that could be construed as hurtful can be retaught to be constructive so that she learns how to be a leader without being hurtful to others.

I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t seen it before. I had taken so much time being frustrated by her attitude toward others, her use of language toward them, and her disregard for some of the rules of the classroom, that I hadn’t seen how she used her inner creativity and mixed it with her leadership abilities. But these traits only became obvious to me when I took a step back and looked at her in a different context. In the moment, it is sometimes hard for us to see what is right in front of our face, especially when we are so fixated on rules and safety. I thought that I had gotten myself past that by being able to ask myself why I was not allowing a certain behavior in the classroom – and if I wasn’t able to come up with a good enough reason, then allowing the behavior. But that was before some things changed. My intent changed because of outside circumstances. This affected the ability of the children to fully dramatize what they wanted to, the way they wanted to, and get the most out of the experience that they could. It affected their creativity and my sanity. And in the end – as I think back on it now – my little leader’s creativity and leadership may have suffered from it. She isn’t trying to flaunt breaking the rules. She is trying to express her ideas with her friends. And she should be allowed to do that, within reason. It is the “within reason” that I have to discover – what is reasonable? What can I allow? What suggestions can I make that will enhance their game the way that they want to enhance it but not cause a safety issue within the classroom? How can I frame the suggestion in a way that will be acceptable to everyone involved?

How can I allow her to be a leader and still keep everyone safe? That is the question.