Unbottling the genie

What is the importance of creativity for young children? Ruth Churchill Dower explores the wide-ranging and ultimately limitless benefits of arts activity.

Creativity is one of those words that is tricky to get our heads around, especially in relation to young children. On the one hand, we know what it means when we feel creative or are inspired by someone else being creative. On the other hand, it’s hard to pin down and put a satisfactory definition to it. One of the reasons for this is because creativity encompasses so many aspects of what it means to be human, from imaginative and conscious thought to more intuitive, less conscious sensations; from the physical to the emotional; from the brain to the body; and from the spirit to the soul.

For children the ability to imagine the world is crucial to fill the gap between experience and understanding

The feelings that come from creating or experiencing a work of art or performance, such as wonder, satisfaction, intrigue, curiosity and excitement, have a lot to do with the different responses happening in the brain and the body. Interacting with different artforms can directly impact the nervous system to generate and intensify sensation, while arts activities can become highly motivating due to the positive relationship between aesthetic pleasure and dopamine production in the central reward centre.

In short, using the arts to stimulate a child’s creativity speaks to their neurology, psychology, physiology and biology, all of which are informed by their social and cultural contexts. Therefore, each child’s creative action and re-action can be subjective and different, making it even harder to pin down what is good about creativity, and how to stimulate and sustain it.

Scholars around the world have defined creativity as being inventive, original or innovative, turning a new idea into something that hasn’t been made before, creating a new product, or an idea that is both novel and useful in a particular social context. I don’t disagree, but from the many hundreds of creative encounters I have experienced with young children, I think it’s something even more fundamental than this.

It’s about being able to discover and express emotions, passions, ideas, resourcefulness, identities and a unique view on life in a variety of ways that are unlimited by social constraints such as time, money, academic standards, stress or peer pressure.

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Animated conversation at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Photo:  Ruth Churchill Dower