What is Creativity?


creativity (Photo credit: glsims99)

What is Creativity? From an early childhood point of view.

‘To stimulate creativity, one must develop the childlike inclination for play and the childlike desire for recognition.’

Albert Einsteinstrange-albert-einstein

Creativity is often obvious in young children, but it may be harder to find in older children and adults because their creative potential has been suppressed by a society that encourages intellectual conformity.

R. J. Sternberg

What is meant by this ubiquitous concept of creativity? Creativity is a complex concept, that within the education context doesn’t have a precise and universally accepted definition. Educators are said to see creativity as those things outside the ordinary; ‘creative is different’; creative may be seen as new ideas gained at professional development, which are new to the teacher; creativity perhaps is used as vehicle to improve academic outcomes; teachers may teach for creativity i.e. music, art, dance, drama etc. or they may see themselves or peers as teaching creatively by teaching in a way that isn’t the norm (Smith & Smith, 2010).

Teachers when asked about teaching creatively will often refer to Howard Garden’s Multiple Intelligences, or Edward de Bono’s thinking hats, and action shoes these encourage responding and exploring a concept or idea from a different domain and/or lateral thinking. Or they may discuss teaching strategies using brainstorming, cooperative strategies like jigsaw, and collaborative activities (Smith & Smith, 2010).

Sternberg and Lubart, put forward that, “Creativity is the ability to produce work that is both novel (i.e. original, unexpected) and appropriate (i.e. useful, adaptive concerning task constraints),” (1999, p. 3). There are many definitions that focus on these two elements of ‘novelty’ and ‘value’ and “significance to the entire society or its individual (Kudryavtsev, 2011, p. 45), Runco (2007, p. 385)defines these definitions as “product bias.”  Expressing creativity in terms of product seems like a very restrictive way of viewing it, especially when we have young children in mind.

Kudryavtsev (2011, p. 46) explains that it is crucial to differentiate between “creative work as discovery for others and as discovery for oneself,” and the above definition seems to focus on discovery for others. The significance of discovery for oneself is not the creation of a new object, but a change in a child, a creation of new ways of activity, knowledge and skills. ‘Discovery for oneself’ is, in many ways, ‘discovery of oneself’, as was noted by Vygotsky who used to associate creative work with ‘the creation of new forms of behaviour’. ‘. . . Each idea, each movement and experience is pursuit of creation of new reality or a break through to something new’ (Vygotsky 1926, p. 246 cited in Kudryavtsev 2011, p.51).

The criteria of novelty as a definition for creativity is unbefitting for young children; Dust (1999 cited in (Cheung, 2012) asserts children’s creative abilities need to be contemplated in relation to their personal stage of development. Explaining that young children’s work “may not be considered original when judged against larger norms, but may be adaptive and original for that particular child.”

Central to this is the concept of originality, and it is of fundamental importance to make clear that to be classed as original an outcome does not need to be ‘new to everyone, or, indeed, new to anyone else save the person who creates it’ (Storr, 1976: 11 cited in Prentice).

Therefore it is advantageous to embrace an expansive definition of creativity so that each and every child can be considered to have creative potential and to be skilled of creative expression.  Maslow (1970) put forward the view that the “creative individual is a fulfilled one; and one whose life is characterised by ‘agency’ – the capacity to take control and make something of it (cited in Craft, 2003, p. 114).

I found the concept of original for that particular child a meaningful point for me as a professional.  As educators there are certain discoveries and inventions that we observe children make, yet as they are following the footsteps of so many others, do we celebrate, and show enthusiasm and excitement to sustain their explorations attempts?  Are we supporting their changes and growth in themselves?

Differentiating between big-C creativity and little-c creativity is a typical way of thinking about creative acts. The big-C creative person is eminent, a person whose work is well known by people in a particular field (i.e. Mozart in music, Picasso in art). The little-c creative person is not. Big-C creativity leads to the transformation of a domain. Little-c creativity is used in everyday life, as in problem solving. Though this has been further teased out by Kaufman and Beghetto (2009) to include mini-c and Pro-c, we will be focusing on ‘little c’ everyday creativity as of being more relevant for early years educators (Kozbelt, Beghetto, & Runco, 2010).

Richards explains that everyday creativity can be “defined in terms of human originality at work and leisure across the diverse activities of everyday life” (2010, p. 190). Runco suggests that creativity starts on an individual level, occasionally becoming a social matter, and that creativity is part of being human contained in the domain of our everyday lives.  As Maslow (1970) positions creativity is not for the few, but an everyday wonder of everyday people who were not necessarily the equivalent of Einstein (cited in Craft, 2003).

Humans are not instinct driven, we are able to make our own choices, “we adapt and innovate, improvise flexibly, at times acting from our “gut feelings,” at times from options we imagine and systematically try out, one after the other” (Richards, 2010, p. 190).

Children have not had time to master the domain of knowledge needed to have an impact or to make major contributions to a particular field.  Children make discoveries for themselves, which in that context are new, or in relation to peers of their own age and stage of development may be classified as interesting and novel products.

Thus the definition of ‘little c’ creativity, or Richard’s everyday creative is a comprehensive aspect of creativity that early childhood educators should be teaching and acknowledge in our classrooms.

In the next section we will explore why is everyone talking about creativity?

Next section “Why promote creativity?” –>

Cheung, R. H. P. (2012). Teaching for creativity: Examining the beliefs of early childhood teachers and their influence on teaching practices. Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 37(3), 43-51.

Craft, A. (2003). The Limits to Creativity in Education: Dilemmas for the Educator. British Journal of Educational Studies(2), 113. doi: 10.2307/3122416

Kozbelt, A., Beghetto, R. A., & Runco, M. A. (2010). Theories of Creativity. In J. Kaufman & R. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook Of Creativity (pp. 20-47). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Kudryavtsev, V. T. (2011). The phenomenon of child creativity. International Journal of Early Years Education, 19(1), 45-53. doi: 10.1080/09669760.2011.570999

Richards, R. (2010). Everyday Creativity Process and Way of Life – Four Key Issues. In J. Kaufman & R. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (pp. 189-215). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Runco, M. A. (2007). Creativity : theories and themes, research, development and practice / Mark A. Runco: Amsterdam ; Sydney : Elsevier Academic Press, 2007.

Smith, J., & Smith, L. (2010). Educational Creativity. In J. Kaufman & R. Sternberg (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity (pp. 230-264). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Sternberg, R. J., & Lubart, T. I. (1999). The concept of creativity: Prospects and Paradigms. In R. J. Sternberg (Ed.), Handbook of Creativity (pp. 3-16). London: Cambrige: University Press.

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Posted in Children's Play, Learning Frameworks, Reflecting
2 comments on “What is Creativity?
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