Meaning: These are the years that are high time for weaving creativity into so many areas of a child’s learning—yes, being creative is vitally important at all ages, but during these early elementary years children are more cognizant that they are being creative and they understand its contrast with other learning experiences. Considering their passions and level of maturity, their neurological development, their central nervous system, their level of socialization, and considering these early, ripe, ramp-up years toward higher order and abstract thinking—children in kindergarten through fifth grade will feel joy, apply focus, sense accomplishment, and will be inspired when their projects and their classroom work are designed with creativity as the main purpose. The more authentic school programs will be the ones where students execute their creative projects fully while at school, instead of taking these projects home where parents jump into the game and take over, essentially shutting their children out of the creative experience. The best curricula during these years will show plenty of projects requiring students to make models of what they are learning, role playing aspects of literature and history, speculate and guess as to outcomes in science experiments, imagine solutions when problem-solving social conflicts, construct representations of math problems, and make up rules for a new ball game during recess. The possibilities are infinite, and they need to be, as teachers should always be approaching activities with creativity uppermost in their minds. The best teachers I’ve observed will know how to move effortlessly between subjects—like math, language arts, and science—and they can do this because they themselves are being creative, and they know how to weave between topics and lesson and things kids learned last week or earlier in the school year. Students are the winners during these delightfully deft teaching moments. These teachers know that they operate in the realm of creativity, and their own flexible, associative thinking becomes a wonderful model for children, helping them to draw connections between topics and ideas and pieces of knowledge. Creativity’s impact is enormous, as the mind, heart and soul are activated together. Socialization, collaboration, community-building—all are enhanced when the experience at hand is designed through a creative lens. Creativity is also one of the best predictors for establishing cooperation in a community. The benefits travel beyond the school and into communities and even societies. UNESCO claims that “the encouragement of creativity from an early age is one of the best guarantees of growth in a healthy environment of self-esteem and mutual respect – critical ingredients for building a culture of peace.” It is important to give children confidence and affirmation as they exercise their imagination in myriad ways during the early elementary years in order to establish core values of the educational experience and set in motion the kind of motivation that can carry children through their pre-adolescent years—a phase that is often associated in schools with a diminution in creativity’s value, unfortunately.
Actions: The section above outlining the significance of the imagination across the curriculum during the early elementary school years did not make mention of such traditional locales of arts education like visual arts, drama, dance, and music. These programs naturally stoke creativity for all involved in them. These are crucially important in a child’s education, no matter if they “give up” on them as a special focus in later years; however, the infusion of strategies and tactics that cultivate the imagination throughout the school experience will be the most successful means for enlivening the minds and souls of children, sparking their joy and motivation in all things school-related and inspiring interests in off campus programs where they can immerse themselves in one or more of the arts and thus broaden their social sphere and their own confidence. What I’m calling for is a school’s (or a family’s) prioritizing of creativity in all the activities where it is feasible to do so. From a brain development standpoint, it is fascinating to know that a baby is born with 100 billion neurons, but only about 25% of the connections (synapses); between the age of three and adolescence, synapses that are underused get pruned out, and connections become harder to make unless they are regularly used. Activation of creativity and the imagination will forge these connections and solidify brain development during the early elementary years. That’s why it is so important for the conversations, prompts, and questions around the house or in the classroom should be frequently angled toward exercising the imagination. Children should have lots of experience guessing at answers, imagining solutions, creating scenarios, getting inside the mind of a fictional character or a person in the news, answering “what if” questions, coming up with questions. And don’t rule out the role of humor for the creative mind: The kind of tone I like to see in teachers will also include very silly or goofy approaches to learning—like asking “What cartoon would an early American Pilgrim like to watch if they had TV back then? And who can come up with the best reason why that would be the case?” Or, “If Abe Lincoln had his own horse, what name would you give it, and why?” The few teachers I’ve seen who have asked silly questions like this always get amazing and engaged answers. That’s because the imagination gets fired up when these playful questions are asked, which can be much more powerful than the traditional knowledge-seeking, there’s-only-one-answer question coming from the teacher. The marvelous phenomenon is that these are the years when all facets of the learner—language, visual, fine and gross motor, emotional, sensorial, and all the foundational skills necessary for all academic competencies—are energized and neural connections are forming, chiefly through the stimulation of the brain, a process significantly set in motion during creative and imaginative activities.
Learning: A book for the family that is getting great reviews is The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections, by Amanda Blake Soule. For teachers, a way to get inspired each summer prior to the start of the next school year is to read Thomas Armstrong’s book, Awakening Genius in the Classroom, which gives teachers the permission to see every child as a budding genius, just waiting for its imagination and curiosity to be fired up. An easy and wonderful spark for teachers to generate the creative classroom ideas is “19 Ideas to Promote More Creativity in Your Classroom,” by Anna Guerrero, found on the canva.com site. Some great ideas for ongoing creativity, no matter what the subject or lesson, can be found on the excellent edutopia.org site, and then search for creativity, where you will find loads of articles suitable for any teacher, at any age level, teaching any subject.