Creative Education

The lively and visual arts can be taught creatively, but can also be taught poorly with a dampening effect on children’s creativity (how many of you know an adult who was told as a child “Don’t sing! You have a terrible voice!”) This is true for any subject. How educators and caregivers foster or diminish enthusiasm to learn can make all the difference in a child’s attitude to math, or history, science, or music.

Our creativity does not easily submit to confines; as an essential aspect of our unique identity, creativity wants to be expressed through what we do, who we are, how we relate, and how we learn.

The pursuit of my master’s degree in creative education got me thinking outside the box in terms of meeting children’s individual needs for growth, self expression, and inner wellbeing. More deeply than ever, I experienced that we are here to be creative with each other — to find new solutions, express ideas, share our passions, and experiment with the many ways we can arrange things: notes, furniture, paint on canvas, flowers, our clothing, our hair, our systems for health or human services. And now, with years of study with philosopher Ellen Tadd under my belt, I realize that we are each creativity in action — uniquely arranged, radiating our singular histories and the qualities we emphasize — each an instrument is this greater, musical experience of life.

What stops this flow, so apparent in young children? Watch kids at play in a pre-school setting: learning about bees, using paints, tinkering, trying on costumes. Take goods notes. Then move on to a group of freshman in college, studying astronomy in a lecture course. It seems so….boxy! And in fact, too often the open door, outside-the-box thinking of childhood really does get clammed up through what I think of as call and response learning: I share something, you repeat it, and repeat it, until you know it.

In 2011, (the last time I looked), The Columbia Teacher’s College curriculum for undergraduate education majors did not include a single offering with the word “creativity” in the title. Strikingly, there are a myriad of courses on behavior management, working with ADD/ADHD and other learning challenges, teaching in a multi-cultural classroom, and teaching particular subjects. We are training teachers to deal with the increasingly stressful status quo!

What we can do instead is to involve teachers in experiences that help them collaborate across disciplines, across age groups, help them to access their creativity, artistry and wisdom in considering the depth and needs of each child they serve. Teachers need opportunities to explore the most essential ingredients of creative teaching and learning, and the space to create their own unique and nourishing recipes for children.

Teachers must feel empowered to work creatively, taking risks with new ideas, classroom structures, and sparking student imagination. As experts at the Center for Development and Learning state: “You cannot be a role model for creativity unless you think and teach creatively yourself.”

I’m no expert visual artist, but at the Center for Creative Leadership, where I was a guest presenter over a decade ago, I had the opportunity to learn to draw my hand. Instead of copious hours of technical study, I was given simple tools for perceiving my hand in space — a plastic grid — and drawing what I saw — pencil and paper. I had to look deeply and replicate what was there for my eyes to observe: nuances in shading, line, curves. I had never looked so thoughtfully at my hand. When I was done, the magic revealed itself: it was the most nuanced, simple, yet powerful representation of human form that I had ever created. Astonishing!

As artist-educator Dr. Marvin Bartel states: “Creative artists are not concerned that a cow from certain angle can be drawn by combining five triangles in a clever way. Much of good drawing is actually the product of seeing and observational ability. It is a mental acuity learned through practice. Instead of learning rules, copying standard images and proportions, students need to be shown how artists actually look at their world and the things, animals, and people in it.”

Substitute the word science, or history, or mathematics, or writing in the above quote.


—Why Arts Education Is Crucial, and Who's Doing It Best: Art and music are key to student development. By Fran Smith for

—Arts Education Sees Decline, Especially for Minorities by Eric Robolen for “Curriculum Matters”, Feb 28 2011

—NEA study "Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation" from data released in 2009

—Michael Kaiser from talk at the Flynn Center, Burlington, VT, ____