“Every child is an artist; the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
Kids love to be artists. For a kid, creating something is about the process, not the product, even though Pinterest, with its showcase of perfect products perfectly photographed, would have us think otherwise. And, in fact, the siren song of my “Crafts with Kids” Pinterest board has lured me more than once to transpose the process vs. progress hierarchy, and I park my kids at the kitchen table to fashion, for example, snowy owls out of pinecones and cotton balls.
“Here,” I say enthusiastically. “Start by pulling apart the cotton balls.”
No argument there. Pulling anything apart is fun.
“Now squirt some glue onto these paper plates.”
Squirting glue: also fun.
“Now dip the pieces into the glue—no, not that much; dip it, don’t drag it—and poke it into the spaces in the pinecone.”
Here’s where my plans for Perfect Snowy Owls Made of Pinecones begin to wobble.
“I want to pull apart more cotton balls.”
“I want to squirt more glue.”
“Let’s have a cotton ball snowball fight!”
“Can we put on the googly eyes now? My owl is going to have ten eyes. And I don’t want to glue cotton balls, so he won’t be white and fluffy. He’ll be brown and not fluffy.”
What was I thinking? Making snowy owls was my idea, not theirs; they want to create, not copy. I cobble together a somewhat rumpled snowy owl and let them do their own thing, which they entirely prefer anyway. They paint the cotton balls and glue them on paper. When they run out of cotton balls, they indulge in a few paintings.
Ace paints a volcano: “Here’s the lava flowing, and here are the rocks.”
Sonny: “Is that a tree growing out of the volcano?”
Ace: “Nooo . . . I changed my mind. It’s not a volcano; it’s a dinosaur. That’s its tail.”
And before he finishes, it’s back to being a volcano.
Volcano. Dinosaur. Whichever.
Do kids really make those perfect crafts on Pinterest anyway? Ever notice how some of the kids holding up the perfectly crafted item don’t even have paint or marker on their hand or clothing? I’m pretty sure that in some cases—not all, but some—the mom makes a few prototypes of the DYI Stepping Stone or the String Bowl or the Hula Hoop Weaving Loom and then bribes her kid with M&Ms to pose with the best one for a photo.
(Disclaimer: Following a list of instructions to complete a project and taking pride and satisfaction in the product is a good thing. But when kids want to create, they want to create.)
The Torrance Test is a system to test for creativity. For example, the subjects might be given a short amount of time to turn a series of incomplete line drawings into pictures. Those who score the highest are not necessarily the best artists; they are the ones whose ideas are the most original and elaborate, the ones whose images tell a story, express emotion, present things from a different angle, and convey a sense of motion.
(Try it out at RaiseCreativeKidz. Find some kids and have them try, too. Make up your own incomplete figures for each other to complete. It’s fun!)
E. Paul Torrance, the creator of this test, wanted to prove that creativity was as important as intelligence—in every field, not just the arts. But researchers who have used this and similar tests have found that elementary school kids score better on the tests than high school kids do. Overall scores have been decreasing since 1990.
This is obviously a problem.
“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.”—Maya Angelou
So go paint a picture, transform an incomplete doodle into a vibrant picture, write a song, make up a story, or invent a secret language.
And have your kids do the same.
The world needs more artists.