Creativity: Undigested

LEGO-DUPLOWhen I was young, LEGOs® were brightly colored rectangles that came in a box. Children lucky enough to have some could build anything they could imagine. Today, there are all manner of specialized LEGOs®: Star Wars LEGOs®, James Bond LEGOs®, even “LEGO Friends” targeted at girls (LEGO Friends Dolphin Cruise®, LEGO Friends Heartlake High®—yikes!). Each kit comes with specific (and, unfortunately, often gender-specific) target applications and projects.

But it is not just LEGOs. Consider Play-Doh®. Early Play-Doh® came in a set of three cans. Children mixed and manipulated with hands, feet, and whatever tools and kitchen implements were at hand. Today you can buy Play-Doh kits to make hamburgers (complete with doughy cheese and tomato), a Play-Doh® Spaghetti Factory, or numerous other specialized kits.

starwarslegosNone of those toys, alone, are problematic. I’m sure it would be fun to make a big mound of Play-Doh® spaghetti. But I worry that too many opportunities for children’s “creativity” come pre-planned—like a mother bird pre-digesting food for her babies. A Spaghetti Factory makes spaghetti. A Star Wars LEGO kit, complete with illustrations, does not say to children, “Use your imagination and build something new,” it says, “Hey, here is something cool, make one of these.” It is an invitation to an imaginary world—but it is a world someone else invented.

Many “creative” video games have the same issues. Children have fun, but their imaginations can be limited to the worlds and situations created by the game designers.

If we want young people to have the opportunity to create worlds of their own, they must experience creativity of the un-digested variety. This might mean non-themed construction sets and plain art materials. It might mean time outside building with sand and sticks. One of my favorite examples recently came from a friend who is a young mom. I looked at the Facebook photos of her children building a marvelous contraption in the driveway. I asked how it happened. Her response was nonchalant but profound.

Just wanted them to be creative on their own so I gave them these open pvc pipes, colored water ice cubes, jugs of water, some rocks and said they could do whatever they wanted. They started in the backyard but wanted the incline of the driveway. They chose this. They had a blast.

There is creativity at its best—undigested, facilitated by a parent wise enough to stand back and watch. Try it, with whatever you have on hand, and let us know what happens.


2 thoughts on “Creativity: Undigested

  1. I totally agree with everything you have written in this post. With my interest in creativity and being a teacher, I often think how can I let the children be more creative? Well I came up with a saying – Let the children do it!. This is just the way your friend did with her children.
    When other teachers at my school ask how they should do something or how the children should do something, I simply say – ‘Let the children do it!’ or ‘Just give them whatever you want them to do and they can work it all our for themselves.’ The result usually is grand!
    Sometimes I feel like I am talking to myself going around saying, ‘let the children do it’, ‘let the children choose how they want to do it’, ‘let the children organise it’ and so on. I don’t think anyone listens, or rather, believes me.

    TEACHERS – Just Let The Children Do It For Themselves. Believe me, you won’t be disappointed.


    • Claude, I know there are many who agree with you–just perhaps not in the classroom next door. (Reminds me of my first teaching job, but that’s a long story.) “Let the children.” is a fine start to many sentences!


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