Cue the return of adaptable boxes

12th November 2004 at 00:00
Giving children freedom to explore and express themselves in subjects across the curriculum will cultivate their creativity, writes Penny Tassoni

With government, industry and business leaders all pushing for creativity, it is firmly back on the educational agenda after years of absence.

So, how can teachers best foster creativity in young children? A good starting point is to realise it can be found in all disciplines. It is more than just painting, writing, role-playing and making music; it is in the scientist whose theory begins as "What if ...?" and the cook who wonders if a deep-fried Mars bar would taste good.

While creativity is about satisfaction, well-being and spirituality, it is also about exploration, imagination and making new connections.

This is powerful stuff when it comes to giving a nation an edge in a competitive world, which is why policy-makers have realised that education without the time to think and dream does not pay dividends in the longer term.

Traditionally there has been a tendency for adults to focus on achievement and end products; pictures to put on walls, dance and drama productions, not to mention the conveyor belt of Christmas goods which leaves adults exhausted and children unsure about which were theirs.

In this evidence-based culture in education, it can be unusual to focus on the process rather than product but this is what teachers need to do to build on children's curiosity and creativity.

Creativity is the soul mate of children. Seeing what things can do, repeating sounds or marks and putting things together are hugely satisfying experiences for them. Teachers need to spend more time investing in creating the right conditions and opportunities for such activities.

Take painting, for example. Youngsters need to discover that paints of different colours merge to produce new colours as well as shades and tones.

They need to see that different brushes and tools produce different marks.

While we can teach them this, they will learn far more if they are given the chance to experiment and see what they can do. Spreading out a large piece of paper on a table, or better still on to a wall, and providing a variety of paints and tools will do the job.

Instead of supervising children, adults should lead the way and get going with making their own marks. This gives youngsters a clear message that adults paint too.

In the same way, children will learn more about models and structures if they are given an array of interesting materials, oddments and the basics of masking tape, string, scissors and staplers. Cue the return of the large cardboard box that can become a car, train or house.

There will be the odd accident, but are accidents problems or are they added bonuses? A happy accident means that we can show children how to convert a problem into something for them to solve. Which cloth do they think will mop up best? Does hot or cold water do the better job?

Happy accidents might include finding out that tinsel does break, but can make a wonderful pompom. A splodge of paint in the wrong place means another tree, flower or whatever in the picture.

As well as encouraging children in traditionally creative areas, we should see creativity as something that crosses the curriculum. Playing outdoors and finding ways to stop teddy from getting wet in a puddle may result in some creative, if bizarre, solutions. The ideas may involve measuring, finding out about absorbency and how a washing machine works. It may also end in writing a note to teddy's mother to explain why teddy is going home wet.

Giving children some freedom to experiment, explore and express themselves not only fits the creativity agenda but also helps to get back to what is the core of childhood: play.

Penny Tassoni will take four seminars at the show, on November 19 and 20 at 10.30am and 1.30pm


* Make sure the focus of activities is the doing, not the result.

* Encourage children to show what they can do with materials rather than you teach them.

* Provide plenty of materials - tape, boxes, haberdashery, various types of paint and brushes - so children can pick and experiment.

* Take a relaxed approach when children try out ideas or oddly mix materials together, such as putting Lego pieces in dough.

* Make sure that children can repeat experiences. This is when they can build on what they have learnt and start to become skilful.

* Take photos so that you can show parents and others what the children have been doing.

* Understand that children are often messy when being creative. Tidying up is important but should be done once they have finished.

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