Creativity, like any other ability, must be noticed and nurtured to bloom. Parents play a large role in recognizing and providing opportunities for creative talent to be expressed. Ways of thinking, personality factors, and physical attributes all influence the development of creative talent. The characteristics of creative individuals include openness to ideas, curiosity, persistence, intellectual risk taking, metaphorical thinking, originality, and thrill seeking. Physical attributes that can facilitate the expression of creativity include high energy, physical coordination, good visual memory, and keen discrimination of the senses.
Parents can best recognize creative talent by giving their children opportunities to explore many realms of expression and noting their interests and abilities. Indeed, motivation in childhood is probably a better predictor of adult talent than ability. Abilities develop over time, but the tenacity to pursue an area of interest usually shows up early.
Conducting an assessment of creative ability is not necessary unless a child will derive educational benefits from it. However, if the school system will not provide special services for a highly creative child, assessment may be needed to validate the parent’s observations, especially if the child’s unusual behavior is misunderstood. For example, one young girl was seen as a behavior problem because she got into trouble during restroom breaks. One reprimand came as a result of her beating on the bathroom pipes. When asked what she was doing, she explained that she was trying to determine how far the sound carried. Another time she clogged up the sink with various objects while testing their ability to float. Her motives were scientific but misdirected. A young boy daydreamed in class and missed assignments, but he was thinking of space and time, extinction and evolution, and nebulas and novas while the class was drilled on calculating means. Certainly, these children could have benefited from more appropriate curricula and sanctioned opportunities to explore their interests.
It can be hard for parents to advocate for creative children. Educators may be far more familiar with differences among children that indicate problems than with those that characterize potential. Therefore parents have the duty to educate themselves about creative talent—how it manifests itself, develops, and can be encouraged. Then they should try to partner with the school rather than be an adversary. Parents can volunteer to help with activities such as Future Problem Solving, Odyssey of the Mind, Invent America, Invention Convention, Destination ImagiNation, or other content-specific programs. Whether working with teams after school or on weekends, raising funds, or providing transportation, offering help to start and maintain programs is a positive way for parents to assist the school.
As children grow and develop, they need a variety of opportunities and have to commit more time and energy to their talent area. For example, a girl may take dance classes for fun once a week when she’s quite young. As she matures and decides that she has a strong interest in dance, she will spend more time taking classes and practicing. Her parents may have to decide, if her interest and talent are strong enough, to send her to a better dance school (even if it’s in another city). Stories of very talented individuals often include family sacrifice and commitment.
E. Paul Torrance’s Manifesto for Children, based on observations of the creative development of a group of children from primary school through adulthood, can provide guidance in fostering creativity:
As our world becomes more complex and problems become more challenging, the need for creative individuals to address these situations in innovative ways increases. If creativity goes unrecognized, both the creative individual and society lose such important contributions as the ideas from unwritten novels, medical breakthroughs, economic prosperity from new business ventures, beautiful art and music, proclamations for social change, and resource-saving inventions.
The discovery and development of creativity should be primary goals of families and schools. The Dalai Lama has explained the spiritual implications thus: “As free human beings, we can use our unique intelligence to try to understand ourselves and our world. But if we are prevented from using our creative potential, we are deprived of one of the basic characteristics of a human being.”
Bonnie Cramond, Ph.D. is associate professor of gifted and creative education in the Department of Educational Psychology and Instructional Technology at the University of Georgia. She also serves as director of the Torrance Center for Creativity and Talent Development.
This article is reprinted with permission from the Duke University Talent Identification Program.
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