Creative Talent Comes Out to Play

By Marjorie Sarnat Posted 7/25/12 | Updated 3/1/23

Game pieceI’m a big fan of board games, parlor games, and any games that kids and families enjoy. They’re all designed for fun but some games have hidden benefits, too; they reveal creative talents.

Observe your child at play with some of the games listed at the end of this article, and notice if he or she excels at one or more of them. Try to detect the creative thought your child uses while playing that game.

What Is Creative Thought?

Creativity is about problem solving in a new way, making new connections, and using imagination. Dr. E. Paul Torrance identified four basic components of creative thought,* which usually interact in combinations with each other.

  • Fluency is the ability to generate quantities of ideas.
  • Flexibility is the ability to process information or objects in various ways, and to perceive things from several points of view. This also includes redefining and re-purposing things.
  • Originality is the ability to generate new, different, and unique ideas that others are not likely to think of. Originality includes imagination, as well.
  • Elaboration is the ability to expand on an idea by embellishing it with details, or the ability to develop an intricate plan.

Fluency Scorned

When I was in the fourth grade our teacher, Miss Malkin, gave us an unusual assignment. She wrote a word on the chalkboard and gave us ten minutes to list as many words as we could think of using only the word's letters. (I now call this game “Word Flurry.”)

When the time was up, Miss Malkin asked the top student in our class how many words she had. Bonnie announced that she had 34 words. The teacher asked if anyone had more.

I was the only other student who raised a hand, and I reported that I had 116 words. As Miss Malkin approached my desk she declared loudly, "You must have done it incorrectly." But when she scrutinized my list, she saw that I had, indeed, done it correctly!

Miss Malkin was slack-jawed, and sat staring at me for the longest time. She was clearly astonished, for I was a bright student, but didn’t usually earn the highest grades.

Miss Malkin didn't know anything about creativity. If she had, she would have known that creative thinking embodies the skills used in a task such as this (fluency), and that high intelligence (as traditionally measured) and high creativity operate independently. Highly intelligent kids may or may not be highly creative. Highly creative kids are usually very intelligent, but they’re not always the most successful students.

As a parent or teacher, be on the lookout to spot creative talent. Encourage your kids by acknowledging their creativity and letting them know that creative thought is an awesome and important kind of intelligence.

Kids Who Play Games Play With Thoughts

Scrabble® — The game of Scrabble and its variations require the creative thought skill, flexibility, to score well. Many people think this game is about vocabulary and spelling. That’s part of it, but players must be able to see several word possibilities on the board and form many combinations from the letters on their racks — and quickly, too.

Monopoly® — This longtime favorite is an involved game that depends mostly on luck — until later in the game when good players must strategize purchases, trades, and sales for managing expenses with available funds. That can require some fancy flexibility, elaboration of plans, and original ideas to negotiate staying in the game.

Dictionary — This classic game idea has seen a number of commercial incarnations over the years, such as Slang Teasers® and more. The object of the game is to present an unfamiliar word to the players, who make up definitions to fool the others into believing their definition is correct. Writing bogus but convincing definitions takes originality, elaboration, and plenty of imagination.

Word Flurry™ — This game calls upon a bit of flexible thinking with a large dose of fluency. Players are challenged to make as many words as they can from only the letters contained in a given word. Creative players run consonant blends, vowel substitutions, and letter combos through their minds as they scan for words before the time runs out.

Mad LibsMad Libs® — This popular game of substitutions tends to elicit much amusement. Players are given a written story with fill-in-the-blanks, which they fill in with random words. There are many Mad Lib variations, but I consider Mad Libs a modern adaptation of its hysterical classic predecessor, “The Comical Game of Dr. Quack,” first published in the 1930s.

Creative kids love the surprising ideas generated by random substitutions and they especially delight in making up their own stories and fill-in-the-blank words in homemade versions of the game. Originality, imagination, and flexibility-through-substitution are most of the fun in playing this game.

Gin Rummy, Canasta, and Variations — Tried and true card games such as these have been reworked and reinvented in a number of cutely named and illustrated card games for children, but their basic concept remains similar: combine cards in certain ways that score optimum points. Luck aside, flexible thinkers have a great advantage here, as they see extra possibilities for combining and recombining the values of their cards.

Lucky Ducky™ — Two or more players and an abundance of imagination are all the working parts you need to play this game. Elaboration helps, too.

To play Lucky Ducky, the first player begins a story about something that makes Lucky Ducky smile. The next player turns poor Lucky Ducky’s situation to a bad one. Then a player turns it good again, and so forth until a player runs out of story ideas. Each new piece of story must continue from the last story line.

For example, begin with:

“Lucky Ducky went to the beach.”

The second player might say, “Unluckily it started to rain.”

Next, “Luckily he met a friend who shared an umbrella.”

“Unluckily, the wind destroyed the umbrella.”

“Luckily, the sun came out again.”

“Unluckily Lucky Ducky and his friend were cold.”

“Luckily they had some hot chocolate in a thermos to warm themselves up.”

…and so forth.

Hats & Cats Alike™ — In this game of uncommon commonalities, two or more players must stretch their minds to find what two seemingly unrelated things have in common. To play, the first player names a random thing, such as “hat.”

The second player names another random thing, such as “cat.”

Players alternate turns, naming what the two have in common. Remember, creativity is all about making new connections.

For example, “They both can be orange.”

“They both can fit in a shoe box.”

“They both have a soft surface.”

“They both belong to the same family.”

“They both are made of natural materials.”

… and so forth, until a player runs out of ideas.

Inventive Games

Lucky Ducky and Hats & Cats Alike are games I made up to play with my kids when we were out and they were bored. Not only were these fun boredom busters, but also Lucky Ducky developed and focused their imaginations and Hats & Cats Alike gave their creative minds a serious workout.

The next time your kids play a favorite game, consider whether it has a creative thinking aspect to it. If it does, be encouraged knowing that not only is your child having fun, but he or she is practicing becoming a future creative genius.

*E. Paul Torrance, 1962 Prentice Hall, N.J., “Guiding Creative Talent,” pg. 46-47

©2012 by Marjorie Sarnat. All rights reserved.