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Creativity is a teachable skill: Where ideas come from

Where ideas come from

Ideas are for everybody.

We all have them. In my workshop train kids to find their best ideas every day, and during summer camp we do it all day long. You might think that creativity is special or magic, or the province of a few “the creatives.” Many people in my life have felt this way. They look at creative work with wonder and ask “How did you ever get that idea, I’m just not that creative.”

I believe that all people are creative. I also believe we are hard-wired to have ideas. In my workshop, we practice the habits of mind and work that help us tap into the creative energy and keep it working. I have not written a book on this, but if you need one The Intention book by seems to be full of good ideas, although I have not yet done a full review.

Which Curriculum Are You Using?

At this point, I am using SamPattersonCreativeCamp 2. This curriculum develops at the intersection of my kids' interests and my experience running summer programs for the National Writing Project (the finest organization for teachers to learn about supporting creative work). There are not set lessons. I have a rhythm of the day, like a schedule but more responsive. There are themes to the week, each week has a different focus or goal. We are never all doing the same thing, and the most important aspect of camp has not yet been mentioned. It is also the most important aspect of developing a space where kids are free to take creative risks.

Creativity Needs Community.

When we ask kids to have their own ideas and share them with other students we are asking them to do risky and socially complex work. We support and protect them in this by creating a supportive community of creative thinking. We help them learn how to listen to each other and support one another. We also teach them how to be inspired by others and give them the credit they deserve. For example, one kid does a cool thing and soon another is doing it. If you have not helped them prepare for this moment they will be angry “She is copying me, or she stole my idea.” This creates tension and shuts down creativity by introducing ownership. We, as teachers, have to give the kids language like “That is really cool, I think I will try something like Alexa is doing. Alexa, can you tell me more about how that works?”

We start the day building creative community. I ask them to read books and find ideas to share in morning circle. One of my incoming kindergarten kids on the first day whispered: “But I don’t read yet.” I told her to find a picture that gives her ideas and be ready to share it. When the kids share we have a mic we pass around and this helps everyone stay focused. When 30 kids all say something it takes time. THIS TIME IS WORTH IT. While the kids share I often model responses or give them more information.

Throughout the day we gather together several times to talk, share ideas, and watch short videos. The kids need a cool down after recess, a time to refocus, a time to fall out of whichever invented games they were playing outside. We have seen several pieces of Mr. Rogers (The operas are amazing), some behind the scenes with the Lion King (Thank Shelby for sending those), and we did some close looking at Little Big Awesome. In each of these, we talk about how the artists are creating effects and telling stories.

These times, when the kids are “shopping for ideas” in books or videos are most of the camp pictures I have. We don’t do this all the time, but it is the only time my hands are truly free to snap photos.

Where do your ideas come from?

What routines and tools do you use to keep your kids creating and sharing?

About the author, Sam

Sam is Makerspace coordinator at Echo Horizon School, the nicest little school on Los Angeles' West Side. In the classroom since '02 Sam has taught grades PreK-12. Every lesson is a writing lesson.