Fostering Creativity in Children
By Abby Connors | Updated September 14, 2018
My favorite line in "Toy Story 3" comes when one of a group of toys explains to a newcomer, "We do a lot of improv here." That's exactly what play is: creative improvisation.
Sometimes children play with toys in seemingly repetitive "plots," whether it's good guys versus bad guys or dolls having a tea party, but there's always a measure of improvisation involved as they create new characters, new dialogue, new sets, even new story lines.
Children are constantly improvising, not only in play, but in language, singing, playing instruments, dance and movement, and art, and it helps them learn in ways that we as teachers and parents should be aware of.
Improvisation helps children integrate concepts and make them their own. They may hear the word "wiggly," and even watch something wiggly, but if they move like a wiggly worm, they understand the concept in a more meaningful way. Standing as straight as a "candle on a birthday cake" helps them feel what the concept of "straight" means and integrate it into their thinking.
Improvisation helps children practice creative thinking skills by putting two or more ideas together to create something new, for instance playing a drum (one idea) as quietly as a mouse (another idea).
When young children improvise, they become instantly involved and engaged in a learning task, whether improvising a way to keep the beat of a song, or improvising a voice for a character in an acted-out story.
Through improvisation, children create their own learning, rather than passively receiving information. For instance, when improvising with musical instruments, children construct their own knowledge of the sound of the instrument, its physical properties, and their own capabilities to make sounds with the instrument in various ways.
Improvisation reinforces to children the idea that learning is fun and gratifying in itself.
Improvisation gives children the opportunity to build confidence in their ability to share ideas with a group. This confidence is vital to cooperative learning and to school success in general.
Improvisational activities give children practice in respecting and appreciating others' work. In my experience, children are tremendously interested in observing and listening to their classmates' ideas.
Improvisational activities help a group of children bond as they create a joyful, beautiful or funny experience together.
Individual students' improvisations can help teachers to identify students' strengths and weaknesses in order to plan meaningful individualized instruction. In particular, we can often observe a student's abilities and strengths through improvisations that we would not have been able to learn through more formal learning activities.
Improvisation gives children confidence as they learn to see themselves as proactive learners and creative thinkers. Like the toys in "Toy Story 3," teachers should "do a lot of improv here" to help young children learn in age-appropriate, meaningful and engaging ways.
©2011 Abigail Flesch Connors. All rights reserved.
Abby Connors is an early-childhood music teacher and author of Shake, Rattle and Roll: Rhythm Instruments and More for Active Learning. ...