How Creativity Flourishes Through Play & Why It Matters

We can think of creative process in terms of a Creative Learning Spiral (a theory defined by Mitch Resnick, head of the Academic Programme at the MIT Media Lab).

Imagine a group of children, playing on the floor with a collection of wooden blocks. Two of the children began building a castle, inspired by a fairytale their teacher read to them. They keep adding more blocks, and the tower gets taller and taller. Eventually, the tower tips over and falls to the ground. The children start building again, trying to make the tower more stable.

Meanwhile, another child starts telling a story about the family living inside the castle. Her friend extends the story, adding a new character. The two children go back and forth, continually adding to the story. As the castle grows, so does the story.

They learn many things through the play. Through the tower building, they develop a better understanding of structures and stability. As they create stories, they develop a better understanding of plots and characters. Most importantly, they learn about the creative process, and they begin to develop as creative thinkers.

Imagine: Child start by imagining a fantasy castle

Create: It's not enough to imagine. The child turn their ideas into action, creating a castle, a tower and a story.

Play: The children are constantly experimenting with their creations by trying to build a taller tower.

Share: The children collaborate on building the castle and creating the story, hence they share ideas with one another.

Reflect: When the tower collapses, the parents/teachers can join in and encourage the children to reflect on why it fell. How could they make a more stable tower? We can show them pictures of skyscrapers, and the children can see that the bottoms of the building is wider than the top.

This Creative Learning Spiral is repeated over and over. The materials can vary (crayons, glitter, construction paper) and the creations differ (castles, stories, pictures, songs) but the core process is the same.

It is the engine of creative thinking. As the children go through the spiral, they develop and refine their abilities as creative thinkers. They learn to develop their own ideas, try them out, experiment with alternates, get input from others and generate new ideas based on their experience.

Why Creative Thinking Matters?

Today's workplace is undergoing a radical transformation. Many jobs are disappearing as computers and robots take over routine tasks and almost all jobs are changing as people and workplaces must continually adapt to a constant flow of new technologies, new sources of information, and new communication channels. In order to flourish in this rapidly changing landscape, the ability to think and act creatively is more important than ever before.

Creative thinking is needed outside of the workplace, too. The pace of change continues to accelerate in all types of activities, in all aspects of our lives. Today's young people must learn to deal creatively with uncertainty and change, not only in their work lives, but also in their personal lives. They need to learn how to develop and sustain friendships in a fast paced era and assimilate meaningfully in communities that have ever shifting needs and boundaries.

There's a greater need for creative thinking today than ever before. Creative thinking has always been, and will always be, an integral part of what makes life worth living. Life as a creative thinker can bring not only economic rewards, but also joy, fulfillment, purpose and meaning.

Children deserve nothing less.