Crushing childhood creativity starts young

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After four years at university studying a liquorice allsorts of fascinating subjects, it was a line written on a toilet wall that stayed with me. It said, “Arts Degrees: please take one” with an arrow pointing to the toilet tissue.

As a Bachelor of Arts student I copped this kind of flak all the time. Those “creative thinking” degrees were deemed theoretical, something you fluffed around doing until you figured out what you really wanted to do. They didn’t lead to a “vocation”. The sarcastic daily rhetoric from other faculties eventually undermined my creativity and my confidence, leaving me licking my wounds and wondering why the hell I’d signed up for a dead-end degree.

It took many years to recognise that my degree taught me to think. It taught me to be curious, to question, to analyse and collate. I didn’t accept things at face value; I was to uncover what they meant and how I would digest and interpret these nuggets of information so I could recreate and communicate with my voice and my spin on it. I was taught to look for depth, nuance, points of difference, and most importantly, to pursue passion.

I applied these skills in a succession of jobs; from retail and customer service, to banking and travel. When I was a human resources manager I had daily brain implosions from suggestions for improvements within the company. However, convincing upper management to adopt an out-of-the-box idea was challenging – and fair to say impossible unless it could be quantified in monetary terms. Obviously businesses can’t run on ideas alone, but rewards reaped in terms of staff retention, positive company culture and boosted morale were rarely implemented because managers wanted proof in numbers. Pay increases for non-sales people were often less because it was difficult to measure how their contribution actually added to the bottom line.

Imagine how creative writing is viewed – it’s not a vocation you pursue if you want to get rich quick. Or ever, in fact. You do it because you love the written word. If you’re lucky, someone might pay you for it. In selected cases, the pay offered will be an insult to your intelligence, your creativity, your skills and your ability.

I shouldn’t be dumbfounded by the amount of people who deem creative pursuits as leisurely hobbies. I have friends who are writers, photographers, artists and actors who’ve all been asked to offer their skills for free at some point. This pedestrian view of us arty-farty hippy-types who get a kick out of sharing our skills pro bono is clichéd and ill-informed.

As a writer and a parent, I see how little creativity is valued in general. The mockery of inventiveness starts early.

Play-based learning? Some scoff at the term. The childcare workers who strive to encourage innovation, originality and different patterns of thinking in our children from a young age are underpaid and undervalued.

Kindergarten/preschool teachers are equally ignored on the pay scale, and under the pump from a curriculum that wants quantitative results. Yet we wonder, “How hard can it be? It’s Play-Doh and finger painting!” I’ve stood in the line at kinder pick up and carelessly contributed to such conversations. Then I’ve survived a stint of kinder duty and taken it all back. Creativity sometimes means chaos when a large group of four-year-olds is involved.

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School comes and the focus is on literacy and numeracy, as it should be. I want my children to graduate from primary school as competent readers and confident mathematicians, but I also want them to learn to express themselves via other forms.

In the inspiring words of Sir Ken Robinson:“Creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status."

Valuing creative pursuits needs to start with our children. For if we start here, by the time they’re adults, creativity will be respected as a significant contributor to our happiness, and therefore something people are willing to pay for.

To crush childhood creativity with our adult stamp of reality extinguishes the fire. An eight-year-old’s burning desire to be a dancer in the Australian Ballet should be encouraged. A 15-year-old who is supremely gifted at music who may never play in a European Orchestra should be supported because he just might – or perhaps he’ll one day compose the music to your wedding vows that will forever invoke intense emotion.

I recently accepted a scribbled circle from my three-year-old daughter – one of her achievements at crèche.

“It’s beautiful,” I said. “What is it?”

“A rainbow,” she replied.

Of course it is. And that rainbow may one day be the next Apple innovation, because thinking differently is what invites greatness. We should be putting a premium on inventiveness, not expecting it for free.

As John Dragoon wrote in a Forbes article: “Creativity, after all, is not valued as an end itself, but a critical means to that end.”

How do you value and encourage creativity in your children? Have your say below or in the Essential Baby forum

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