It is never too early to help children develop skills in creativity, innovation and cognitive flexibility. A study from Michigan State University (MSU, 2013) found that childhood participation in arts and crafts leads to innovation, patents, and increases the odds of starting a business as an adult. Fostering creativity encourages out-of-the-box thinking. The study reported that using artistic skills – such as analogies, playing, intuition and imagination – helped children learn to solve complex problems. “The skills you learn from taking things apart and putting them back together translate into how you look at a product and how it can be improved,” said Eileen Roraback, of MSU’s Center for Integrative Studies in the Arts and Humanities.
You can do this easily in your classroom with simple project-based activities and April is a great month to start. There is a strong focus on recycling and reusing materials this month with the Earth Day celebration on April 22nd and next month is National Inventors Month! Get out old paper bags, cardboard boxes, paper tubes and rolls, plastic bottles, fabric scraps and more. Ask the children what they would like to create using the materials. Children have a natural tendency to fantasize, experiment and explore their environment. You can tap into this by asking questions and building on their answers. Then let the children play and create.
Take the projects a step further by asking the children to solve simple classroom problems focused on the 5 Rs around Earth Day – Recycle, Reuse, Replenish, Reduce and Restore. Ask the children to help – what can we do to recycle materials and what things could we reuse in another way? Create a list of their ideas and use the list as a guide for their projects.
Both creativity and play require imagination, problem solving, critical thinking, as well as, the ability to experience emotion and to make choices. Focus on the creative process and the steps the children take while using the materials versus looking at the end product. It is in this process that the true learning and innovation take place.
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