Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Play, the key to creativity

Children are so curious. They question everything. They explore in new and dynamic ways; smelling, touching, poking, climbing, tasting. It is an infant and toddlers ingenious way of learning. They see objects creatively and think outside the box.

Dr Stephanie Carlson, an expert in childhood brain development, found that children spend as much as 2/3 of their time in non-reality - imaginative play. Other experts have also noted children's keen aptitude for being creative. Einstein once said "To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play". In addition, Picasso famously said "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up".

Susan Robertson, in an article about children's imaginations, interestingly pointed out that one of the child-like traits that is often associated with creativity is lack of self-control. We have come to view creativity and self-control as mutually exclusive - creativity is child-like; self-control is adult-like. Perhaps this is where the idea that highly creative adults tend to be less self-controlled comes from (more child-like) . Indeed I would go as far as to say more messy too (see here on the article that backs my point up).

Children use role play, imaginative games and exploration to come up with alternate ways of being, in a non-threatening scenario. As a result they become better problem solvers and more resilient.

Today, I watched with fascination as the boys sat inside a basket surrounded by flattened cardboard boxes drawing. Chick 1 was keen to mark make and try out different colours, while Chick 2 carefully designed a fire station control room - "the controls are here, this would be the window... I need blue for that".

While I had been monitoring the boys, Chick 1 snuck up on one of the work tops and had began creating "not a potion Mummy... it's an experiment" (We've had words in the past after finding whole pots of herbs and spices had gone into making a potion. )

She had been selecting leaves from the fresh herb pots, smelling them and mixing them into the jug. It was an excellent opportunity for us to have a little chat about the names of the different herbs and what they tasted like/smelt etc. Chick 2 quickly decided this was more interesting than what he'd been doing and started making a potion experiment too.

As a parent to three lively children and a reception teacher to 29 4/5 year olds, my challenge has been to try and create a setting which is conducive to creative learning and play. One which enables the children to play imaginatively with minimal intervention from adults. Child-initiated play is a big part of Early Years education and I wish it was the case higher up in schools too.  Creativity takes a huge nose dive as children get older. One study suggested that it is around the age of 8/9 that children's natural tendency to daydream declines sharply. Why is this? Could it be that we become less familiar with the practice of imaginative play as our focus is turned to logic, reasoning and learning facts in the classroom? We spend less and less time in our imagination and more time in reality. There is of course a necessity for the facts and core subjects to be priorities. However, in the current system,  opportunities for imaginative play higher up in school are limited and under prioritized. Sir Ken Robinson gave a fantastic talk in 2006 all about the way in which creativity is being killed. One of the points he makes is that become fearful of being wrong. He states "If you're not prepared to be wrong, you'll never come up with anything original. The worlds greatest innovations and discoveries came about through dedicated hard work in addition to a flare of imagination, creativity and the absence of fear for getting it wrong. 

If creativity and imagination is something that diminishes when we don't exercise the mind in this area, perhaps then it is possible that we can in fact re-kindle it by being a little more playful each day. 

Here are some ideas to get the creative juices flowing :

The inanimate object game: pick a random object - banana, saucepan, pen etc then come up with as many different 'uses' for it as possible, for example banana= use it as a phone, a smile, tiny bridge etc. This game is good in groups where you take it in turns going round in a circle. 

Photograph something boring creatively: instead of just snapping the odd selfie or kiddy pic, look for things around you which you see all the time and think of a way to photograph it creatively. For example, change the camera angle , put the object in a funny place /strange position. 

Daydream: The next time you have a moment to think- be it waiting in a queue, orat the docs surgery,instead of trawling Facebook ...just think. Look at the people around you- think up stories for their past. Or imagine a hippo with a pink flowery hat walks by, what happens next? 

Creative Monsters: There are 3 random words below.  Use them as inspiration for a monster that you may come across with a sci fi series.  Use one word as inspiration for the name, one for it's special attack or power and one for it's weakness. 


If you have young children , take some time out to simply play, actually immerse yourself in their role play or story telling. 

Creativity is still hugely undervalued in education, and I truly hope one day it will play a bigger role in the curriculum.

I'm always looking for  new and interesting creativity games , so if you have any great ones, please pass them along. 


  1. We encourage our children to use their imagination and creativity as much as possible. Our children split time between our house and their Mother's. At their Moms they are left to play video games and watch tv as a babysitting method. We let them have some electronic time, but we make sure that there day has creative play included always. Kids have such wonderful imaginations. Thank you for sharing this post in the All For Mamas Link Party Week 3 #allformamas. I will share this post on the facebook group page, my page, twitter and pinterest.

  2. Great list, I'll have to keep the monster game in mind as my boys get a little older,they are one and three now. My three year old is really getting coming into his own, we have an awesome children's museum with lots of option for imaginative play, he could play there everyday.