Creativity is the key
Many people associate creativity with art or new discoveries, failing to realise that creativity is equally important when it comes to problem-solving, be it minor obstacles or matters of life-changing importance.
'It helps in decision-making, problem-solving, also process-solving,' says Dion Chen, acting principal of YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College, the first secondary school sponsored by the YMCA of Hong Kong.
'It can also improve self-esteem and motivate students' learning,' Chen adds, noting that creative thinking is an important survival skill and it is 'the key force behind personal growth and the development of culture and society'.
The requirement for creativity, problem-solving skills and thinking out of the box is specified in many job advertisements, but sadly these traits seem to be on the wane.
At Highgate House School and International Steiner Waldorf Pre-School 'creativity is happening all day', says founder and education co-ordinator Julie Lam. 'It's a life-skill learned in kindergarten and even before that, and has a very far-reaching effect on adult life. These days, we see a lack of creativity in our children and more and more people in the workplace need to be taught it. It is a phenomenon in major cities around the world.'
Developing creativity is a two-pronged process. Whether pre-schoolers or 15-year olds, children are equipped with natural curiosity if they are allowed to experiment. From this point of view, the most important thing is not to fill up every minute of a child's schedule with classes, but to allow them enough time to try out things, to fail and learn and try again. In self-initiated play, they develop their imagination, interact with other children and learn to express themselves, learn co-operation and social behaviour, consider opinions other than their own and develop resilience - trying again and again when they fail. The role of adults is to observe them and provide an environment where children feel safe, Chen explains.
Meanwhile, children also need to learn the instruments of expression that help them execute their creative thoughts. 'In order to be creative, you must also learn the skills and background knowledge requisite to understanding and solving the problem,' says Dr Jadis Blurton, clinical psychologist and principal of The Harbour School. 'Schools need to strike a balance between teaching the skills, the attitudes and characteristics necessary for creative thinking.'
Apart from keeping children so busy that they don't have time to think, there are other aspects of adult behaviour that are said to cause a loss of creativity, such as teaching them that there is only one correct answer for everything, ridiculing them when they fail or sending the message that to be different is to be wrong, Blurton adds. Another widely cited problem is the tendency of some adults to give off signals that the child is incapable of solving a problem, which in turn undermines that child's self-confidence and motivation.
'Nourish your own creativity. Try to avoid judgments, criticism and comparisons. Encourage your child's individuality, and provide adequate resources to foster creative thinking,' says Karen Ferris Cole, group school director of Sunshine House International Pre-school.
Ferris Cole says parents should explore and build things together with their children, take an interest in what the child has learned at school, and encourage them to seek solutions to problems. 'Read to them and foster a learning environment at home that sparks the child's imagination. Ask open-ended questions to encourage dialogue and discovery,' she adds.
For pre-school children, one of the most important factors determining their ability to think creatively is unstructured play-time. However, Blurton reminds parents that at least some of the play-time should be spent in three-dimensional problem-solving and social activities. 'Books, computer games and television may teach some things, but they are unlikely to teach co-operation, social skills, deep thought or creative movement,' she says.
Student-centred school learning that favours research and discussions continues to support the development of creativity as children grow into teenagers.
The YMCA of Hong Kong Christian College uses this method of teaching, and actively engages students to express how they come up with ideas, how they present them and how they feel about them. 'We maintain small class sizes so teachers can spend more time with each student. We provide unhurried time for students to explore and do their best work. We don't interfere in the process, and instead create a classroom climate where students feel mistakes are acceptable and risk-taking is encouraged,' Chen says.