How can we enable children to most fully express their creative potential? - RSA

How can we enable children to most fully express their creative potential?


  • Education
  • Creativity
  • Schools

Creativity – the application of original thought – is widely accepted as being an important part of a child’s education but there is no general consensus on how this is best done, so why do we think a child having the freedom to express her or his creative potential is important?  

‘How can we enable people to most fully express their creative potential?’ posed Matthew Taylor at the end of a recent blog.  His thoughts focused on large organisations, hierarchies and the motivations therein – so I thought it would be interesting to take the same question but explore it from a child’s perspective.  

Why bother?

Artis, who work with primary schools and the arts say that learning through a creatively designed curriculum boosts children’s achievements.  This is a good way of expressing it, for it is an achievement to gain personal skills like being able to manage change and ambiguity, the ability to have empathy and tolerance, to problem solve and be resilient – vital soft skills.  We are fixated that achievement equals attainment.  Though creativity applies to all subjects, research (here and here for example) demonstrates that structured arts activities positively impact on broader achievements as well as attainment.  

We should encourage imagination and the joy of discovery.  We should encourage this on a lifelong basis, but particularly in children, where everyday life is a discovery.  How wonderful it is to foster a love of learning, a love of reading – get a child impassioned about a subject and this will lead to creativity and success.

Creativity is a skill that can be taught and is widely recognised to be a competency that today’s employers value in their workforce and indeed, a 2010 IBM study claims that creativity is the ‘most crucial factor for future success’.  Furthermore, the number of creative jobs (those in the creative industries as well as creative roles within other organisations) in the UK rose by 66,000 to 2.62m in 2013 as creative roles grew faster than the rest of the economy.  Data from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport revealed a 2.6% rise in the number of creative economy jobs between 2012 and 2013.  This compares to the average 1.6 per cent increase in jobs across the UK economy during the same period.  One in 12 UK roles is now a creative job.  There’s an incentive.

Any opportunity to foster a child’s creative skills is an empowering force if we are to address the lack of social mobility in our society.  The Department for Education has uncovered that 36.3 % of young people eligible for free school meals achieve 5 A*-C including Maths and English at GCSE, compared to 62.6% of those who are not eligible for free school meals.  This gap has not decreased.  Wow.  Here’s another damning statistic: young people from the richest fifth of families are nearly three times more likely to go to university than the poorest fifth.   It becomes more pointed when you apply the statistics to real people; as one RSA Academies’ student reminded me recently: ‘we are the future’. 

Ultimately though, there are different views about what creativity is, how best it can be developed in young people and if or how it should be assessed but here are some practical ways that we can enable children to express their creative potential:

Let’s do something!

From the aforementioned Artis.  They are inviting all primary schools to answer the question ‘What is art?’ in ten words. They are not looking for a definitive answer but instead want ‘to encourage individual, generous or contradictory opinions’. Artis has produced a beautiful range of teaching resources inspired by Korean artist Do Ho Suh. Here’s one example:   

Do Ho Suh

Some/One, 2001, credit Do Ho Suh.

“Some/One is made of thousands of metal ‘dog-tags’ – identity tags worn by soldiers around the world.  They are joined together to make a long, flowing role.  As the viewer you have to walk across the dog tags to get round to the front of the robe.  The robe is open at the front and has a mirrored lining, so you can see yourself inside it, making you feel part of the piece”

The prompts for teachers include: "Who can you imagine wearing this robe? What would it feel and sound like to walk across the robe spread out on the floor?  Why has the artist made the inside like a mirror? Is this a portrait?” Brilliant.

From Thomas Tallis School: consider habits – the learnt behaviours that we display in our actions and decisions.  Thomas Tallis, a secondary school in South London is focussing on those particular habits that foster creativity.  The school has been involved in research about the value of creative learning and, out of this, a set of ‘Habits of Mind’ has emerged that looks to be associated with successful creative learners.

Tallis habits  

The Tallis Habits are based on research by Bill Lucas, Ellen Spencer, and Guy Claxton (2013).  

These Year 8s are being invited to contribute to their own journal as one way to encourage creative thinking.  The questions posed (and I rather feel like I’d like to complete it myself, it’s fun!) are all in-roads to exploring the habits’ meanings, as well as encouraging self-reflection.   There is something very compelling about the idea that habits for creativity learnt at an early age are very likely to stay with us our whole lives.

Find creative spaces. Research from America shows that “educational settings that are visual, social and involve experimentation bring about a particular set of learning experiences that may lead to a more profound and effective way of acquiring knowledge and skills”.  Finland is particularly renown for its school system – and part of its success is attributed to the importance placed on the design of its schools.   Unfortunately, not all schools can have wonderful ‘starchitect’ buildings, so introducing children to environments other than schools, that which is ‘outside the school gate’ is profoundly important for those children whose home lives are very insular. 

To return then to original question, how then can we enable children to most fully express their creative potential?

This is the tip of an iceberg (people write books on this stuff after all) so let’s add to that conversation: creativity is seen as important but can be difficult to put into practice in schools, however, it is vital to achievement and attainment, to social mobility and it is teachable and learnable.  The key then I think, is to take creativity seriously, to engage with organisations who have resources and expertise, to remain open-minded and to take risks.  

After all, the power to create is within all of us.

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