The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article this morning from Sue Shellenbarger about what makes kids creative. According to Kyung Hee Kim, an assistant professor of educational psychiatry at the College of William and Mary, American kids' scores on a commonly used creativity test fell steadily from 1990 to 2008. (An example of a question on such a test: A child sees 6 boxes arranged to look like a T. She is asked to list all the things this figure could represent. A common idea would be "the letter T." A less common idea might be "stones in an anti-gravity statue!")
Of course, some folks are quick to point to the increased use of standardized tests, and (the story goes) rote learning as crowding out time for creativity. But I think it's not just what we do in school that discourages creativity. Every Christmas as I'm shopping for toys, I'm struck by how mindless many toys have become. Selling Legos or Lincoln Logs in sets produces higher margins than just selling them as buckets of blocks, so that's what companies do. We buy toys that are associated with characters in TV shows, which then provide ready story lines for children. Will Cinderella turn into a pioneer woman who builds a hut out of Star Wars Lego sets? Let's hope so. But not hold our breath.
But it's not just the toys. It's also the amount of time children spend watching TV and playing video games. Games can encourage creativity -- sometimes. But they don't leave as much to the imagination as a book.
I'm not sure what's to be done about that. We're trying to limit our kids' exposure to video games and TV, and encourage coloring and building with blocks (and cardboard boxes) and the like. I'm curious what other readers of this blog do to nurture their children's creativity.