Can You Teach Creativity?

February 13, 2017

Creativity can be defined as the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work, or the ability to make new things or think of new ideas. “Thinking outside the box” is a commonly used phrase to characterize creativity. But not all “creative” people think or act the same, and judging creativity is highly subjective – if not impossible.

“Art in the classroom not only spurs creativity, it also inspires learning.”
– Mickey Hart

There are several factors involved as to “how creative” a child is perceived. One of the biggest factors, especially in children, is motivation. If a child just does not want to do that particular assignment, chances are you are going to get a bare minimum amount of effort.

Another factor is personality. Asking “is that child creative?” isn’t really even a fair question. But is that child a visual learner or thinker? Is that child more into creative writing, drawing, or speaking? There is a distinct difference in the problem-solving approach taken by any number of different individuals.

So, the big question and entire point of this article is: Can you actually teach creativity?

I believe a measure creativity lurks in everyone’s mind, but it isn’t always unlocked. In some instances, this goes back to motivation, if I don’t really care, I am not going to exert enough effort to truly think about a task and flow enough creative energy into it.

But another consideration is that fine art of thinking outside the box, but more importantly, did a particular creative approach even occur to you? How many times has someone else presented a better or “more creative” project than you? How many times have you struggled with a task, then someone else with a different set of eyes or experiences effortlessly shed some greater insight into it? Did you ever want to start over, not to copy, but to think on it a different way?

So I offer up this simple “creativity” experiment… We just happen to have 4 children in 3 different age brackets available.

Experiment Stage 1: A simple task

“Creativity is a natural extension of our enthusiasm.”
– Earl Nightingale

Given a simple task, with minimal details:

“I know it is February not November, but I need your help with an experiment. I need each of you to separate and make me a hand turkey. Don’t look at anything your siblings are doing, and use whatever supplies you need. I don’t want to waste all night, so you have 30 minutes?”


  • 17-year-old “writer”
  • 14-year-old “artist”
  • 14-year-old “musician”
  • 7-year-old “artist”
Stage 1 – the initial attempts

We got 4 perfectly acceptable hand turkeys. Our “writer” actually made him talk and gave him a speech bubble, our oldest “artist” thought he needed to brandish a sword, our “musician” made a standard run-of-the-mill turkey, and our youngest “artist” spent as much time (or more) on other characters to keep her turkey company.

Experiment Stage 2: A different outlook

“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen, and thinking what no one else has thought.” – Albert Einstein

For this, I fast forwarded a few seconds so the video started with the blank drawing page (10 or 11 second mark). I didn’t want to spoil the ending by seeing the finished product before it started on the video thumbnail.

As soon as the YouTube artist Proko started to draw a real turkey head over the thumb tracing, our youngest said “I want to erase my turkey…”

This stage wasn’t to criticize or compare, but to show a fifth viewpoint. It did not occur to anyone previously how creative or cool they could elaborate on a simple kindergarten arts and craft activity.

Experiment Stage 3: An enlightened view

“Creative thinking – in terms of idea creativity – is not a mystical talent. It is a skill that can be practiced and nurtured.” – Edward de Bono

“Ok, who wants to make me another hand turkey”?

“This time you have until dinner tomorrow. Again, use whatever supplies you need. By the way, there will be a prize for the “best turkey”.

This time I used a couple of “creativity kick starters”. Exposure to a different outlook, utilizing some friendly competition and enticing their level of effort with a motivational reward ($25 to spend on anything at Amazon).

Stage 2 – the follow-up attempts

This time, we got some more creative hand turkeys.  They took more time, and gave more effort into thinking about how to jazz up their interpretation. Our “writer” created a “fandom turkey” with Hogwart House colored feathers. Our oldest “artist” used Proko’s feather design, and instead of holding a sword, his cartoon turkey was on a plate with a place setting. Our “musician” set his turkey on fire, and our youngest “artist” spent more time on her drawing and made a really nice cartoony sketch.

Quite a difference from their initial renderings.

Experiment Conclusion:

“You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.” – Maya Angelou

Learning is a journey, not a destination. Cliché, I know, but learning is an ongoing process of gaining new knowledge or new skill by studying, practicing, being taught, or experiencing things.

Never stop reading books, looking at art, or experiencing new things. You never know where inspiration will come from. The more “creative” things you see, the more “creative” thoughts will come to you when you are doing even the simplest and mundane task.

The true test will be what happens in 9 months when it is actually Thanksgiving again, and we bust out the hand turkey craft and see what level of creativity we get. To be continued…

Final comparisons of Stage 1 and Stage 3

“Education is the foundation for all we do in life, it shapes who we are and what we aspire to be. Creativity fuels innovation, and it’s what all states should strive to instill in the next generations.” –  Jim Hunt

Related Article(s): How to Homeschool Art, Even if You are Not Artistic

Emily Cook is the author and creator of the secular homeschool curriculum Build Your Library, a literature-based K-12 program infused with the teachings of Charlotte Mason. She writes full year lesson plans as well as shorter topical unit studies. Emily has been homeschooling her four children in Southern NH for 21 years. She is passionate about reading aloud to children of all ages and loves to share her love of literature with others. She and her family also makes incredibly dorky videos about homeschooling, books and more on Youtube at ARRRGH! Schooling. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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About Build Your Library

Have you been looking for a literature based homeschool curriculum that is secular? How about a way to incorporate narration, copywork, dictation and memory work into your child’s education? Or art study that ties into history?

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