Teaching creativity in the modern world

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In a world defined by instant gratification, parents and teachers are rightly concerned about how much time children spend using their innate creativity. Childhood should be a magical time for exploring, creating, and imagining the world through play. But too often teachers hear these words: “I’m bored”.

Our education system’s worthwhile pursuit of clearly defined academic progress has led to an unintended consequence: rigid timetables with less and less space for creative pursuits. It’s sad to see schools struggles to find time for creativity in favour of grades and standardised testing. This is particularly concerning at a time when British industry is crying out for innovative thinking.

By promoting creative activity, we might encourage investigative behaviour and provide opportunities for deeper learning. This can introduce pupils to a mindset where they are prepared to independently pursue passions and interests.

Tips for teaching creativity

So, how do we get pupils to act and think with more creativity? The answer for early years and primary school teachers is to find time. This could only be an hour per week for unstructured, play-based learning.

Here are a few simple ideas to get started:

1. Practice telling stories
To supplement literacy lessons, set up small groups of pupils with a simple opening line for a story – something like “once upon a time in a land far, far away”. Ask pupils to pass along the story, adding a new section each time. There’s no right or wrong – and tall stories are always the best! You can follow up this activity by asking pupils to draw a comic strip of the story.

2. Spend more time outdoors
Whenever possible, see if you can set science or ‘active maths’ tasks with an open-ended question that asks pupils to explore the playground or playing field in a new way. You might give them a box of props and ask them to invent their own game. Play along, no matter how silly! This freedom can boost confidence and inquisitiveness.

3. Dance and listen to music
There are many studies that show the link between listening to certain music and increased brain function. A musical interlude during the school day can help to re-focus pupils’ minds. You might also prepare an orchestra of everyday objects (pots and pans, stones in a tin can, or rice in a cardboard tube) or you could ask pupils to choreograph a dance for their favourite song.

4. Art with a purpose
Give pupils a selection of art materials and paper in different sizes. Ask them to pick an object from the classroom or playground to paint – or they can paint from their imagination. Set them a ten-minute time limit to finish up and move on to the next object, so they have to think quickly and intuitively. Lastly, ask each pupil to give a short explanation of why they picked their object, and what it means to them.

The most important aspect is to find a balance between creative time that is either structured and unstructured. The level of direction and management they need will depend on the class.

Pupils will relish this ‘free’ time, where they can imagine far away worlds, or think more about the everyday objects around them. With time, we might stop hearing the dreaded words: “I’m bored”.


Harriet Clay Knight is Head of Department for Maths at The Pointer School in South East London. As well as being a published author and illustrator of four children’s books, Harriet is also Director at A-lined Tutors.