I spent the first few weeks of this past school year reading “Joseph Had a Little Overcoat” by Simms Taback to all of my Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes. My Media Specialist picked the book out for me (I wasn’t familiar with it at all). My first few readings were pretty straightforward with a little emphasis and humor thrown in. After that I became attached to the book and it’s message – you can make something out of nothing, if you use your imagination, creativity and innovation. In the story, Joseph starts with an overcoat, which becomes old and worn, so Joseph makes a jacket out of it. He continues doing this as each piece of clothing becomes tattered until the coat is now just a button, which Joseph ends up losing. At this point we are left to ask if Joseph can make something out of nothing, which he does – he makes a book about it. I began asking students if they have ever made something out of nothing. To get them to understand, I asked if they have ever made their own story; their own song; their own dance; their own picture; their own game. Enthusiastic hands immediately went up and you could see the excitement on the students’ faces as they started calling out the things they have created.
This is exactly what I want for our students – for them to be energized about making, building, creating and to find their passion. We need to provide opportunities to foster creativity in our schools. I am in the middle of a book by Sir Ken Robinson entitled “Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative”. Robinson writes about the small amount of adults who state they are creative versus the large number of children who would describe themselves this way. He states that we have long shut down people’s creativity through the one avenue that should be increasing it – education. So how do we instill creativity in all aspects of school and in all curriculum areas? How do we make it so that creating and making are part of our students’ days? How can we as educators help to raise children who will enthusiastically identify themselves as creative when they are adults?
In another of Robinson’s books, “The Element”, he addresses some myths about creativity. One such myth is that only special people are creative. However, we are all creative in some fashion, just like we are all intelligent in different areas. A second myth is that creativity is only found in certain domains like the arts. The real truth is that we can be creative in anything that involves our intelligence. We can apply our creativity into science, sports, math, basically any area at all. The last myth that Robinson talks about is that people are either creative or they are not. As mentioned previously there are many adults who do not identify themselves as being creative. These people do not see the possibilities of being creative in their work and their lives.
So first let’s all come to the conclusion that we are all indeed creative people. Some of us just need to go back to that wonderful quality of childhood that seems to disappear in many of us as we get older – our imagination. At the school level let’s provide opportunity for our students to showcase their creativity. Give them time to use their imagination. Identify each one as being creative. Create lessons without a defined finished product. Allow students to define what their final product should be.
I get to watch firsthand as my own children make spaceships and castles out of LEGO, how they constructed a rocket out of connecting rods, how they build houses in Minecraft, how they started their own family art club. And I had a big smile the other day when my youngest, who will be coming to school with me next year, asked if he would be building things at school next year. I hope that he will be building, creating and making all the time. My goal is that all of our students should be able to answer the question “what did you make this week?” with a big smile on their face, knowing that their imagination is valued.