Homeschool parents frequently ask, "How can I help my creative child?" In this article I want to consider three areas that will impact the answer to that question: the stages in the creative process, understanding a creative child, and the characteristics of the creative child.

Because we are created in God's image, we are gifted with creativity, but we are surrounded by ample evidence that not all are equally endowed in this category. To some extent, every individual sets his own range for normal. We look out for those below average, accept the average, and wonder what to do with those who are considered more creative than the average. The challenge at each level is to effectively develop and use the creative ability God has provided each child.

Dorye Roettger, a 20th-century writer, identified the catalyst for creativity. He declared, "There are no problems—only opportunities to be creative." Human creativity stems from perceived problems, and as long as the status quo is satisfactory, there will be no attempts to change or create something new. One of the frustrations in coping with a creative child is that his perceived problem is not a predicament for adults. Consequently, the child's efforts are often misunderstood and unappreciated.

Stages in the Creative Process

Some people cause problems, others attract them, but creative minds seek to solve them.

Are you living with a child like Miles Davis? This is how he described himself: "I'm always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life."

Creative individuals are visionaries. They see possibilities. They understand the biblical statement, "Where there is no vision, the people perish!" They have no desire to perish and are willing to do something about the present circumstances.

The First Stage in the Creative Process Is Preparation

Problems may be easily recognized and identified without any commitment to deal with them being made. But it is impossible to expend energy on a problem without having a starting point. Preparation is the first phase in the creative process. Spontaneous, haphazard, or well thought-out plans tackle these questions: How will I solve the problem that annoys me? What can I do about this issue?

For children and many adults, the urge to do something about the problem is usually accompanied by a sense of urgency, so the well thought-out approach is seldom the chosen option. Frequently, the early stages of this process seem designed to make the mess as big as possible, including innumerable delaying tactics. The vocal inflection in the parental question, "What in the world are you doing?" reveals a complete lack of appreciation for the obvious unfinished task.

One reason for the "big mess" approach is the creative individual's desire to bring order out of his "own" chaos. He has to insert his confusion into the mess. Pablo Picasso hinted at this unique method with this confession: "I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it."

The parents of a creative child could profitably observe how their child approaches problem solving. We don't always remember our successful approaches, so parental analysis could be a gift to the child at a time when the child is struggling in his attempts to discover solutions to more difficult problems. At those moments when your child is in a giving-up mood, it could be wise to remember the advice of Sarah Ban Breathnach: "As the season of believing seems to wind down, let me gently remind you that many dreams still wait in the wings. Many authentic sparks must be fanned before passion performs her perfect work in you. Throw another log on the fire."

Your creative child needs help in realizing that failure is not final. Joseph Chilton Pierce advised honestly, "To live a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong."

Creative people are the individuals who produce the changes each new generation enjoys. Mary Lou Cook accurately describes the creative process: "Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes, and having fun."

The world is cluttered by millions of projects that were only started. Having ideas is not the most difficult step in creativity. Who hasn't had dreams that they labeled "weird" or "crazy," only to learn later that someone else brought reality to their dream?

The Second Stage in the Creative Process Is Incubation 

Understand that apparent inactivity is not necessarily unproductive.

The incubation stage is the period when the child is mulling over the problem. It is the time for exploration of possibilities. Creativity seldom follows a paced pattern from idea to completed project. This stage can be discouraging, for it is a time of trial and error. False starts are disappointing and time-consuming. This stage probably requires more patience than any other. The creator is searching for the "aha" moment.

The Third Stage Is Illumination

The illumination stage can be even more exciting than the final stage. This is the Eureka! moment when the course of action is determined. The creator knows, and he knows that he knows, what has to be done. The only thing left now is the hard work required to complete the task.

The Fourth Stage Is Verification

By the verification stage, the creator has recognized the problem, considered alternatives, chosen a course of action, and followed through. It is now the moment of truth. Has the problem actually been solved?

Warren G. Bennis could have been thinking of parents of creative children when he wrote, "There are two ways of being creative. One can sing and dance. Or one can create an environment in which singers and dancers flourish."

Blessed is the creative parent who can do the latter!

Understanding the Creative Child

Successful and satisfying parenting in great measure depends on understanding each child individually. It is likely that parents of creative children will spend more time trying to understand their creative offspring than their "normal" conforming youngsters.

Creative Children Do Not Fit the Mold, Regardless of the Mold Being Used

It is true that each person is unique, but creative children impress that truth on parents more forcefully than others. Creativity is always expansive, going outward. Creative children are challenging because they don't fit the indefinable norm. Kids are more easily managed if they conform to "my" expectations and stay within "my" comfort zone.

Each society is built on conforming sameness and routine. Creative minds like things different, with variety. Society operates on conformity; creative souls enjoy nonconformity. Parents of creative children must help guide them in balancing between the two.

Creative Children Seem Always to Interpret Things a Bit Differently

I often wonder if creative kids are intentionally disobedient, or if they hear the directions differently. "Listening to a different drummer" is a nice cliché, but sometimes it is natural to question if creative children are even playing the same tune.

How do you handle this scenario? You have given a specific assignment with specific details and have definite preconceived ideas of what your children should do. The creative child's final results are better than you expected but slightly different than requested. Are you frustrated because he didn't follow directions, or are you proud that his solution is "better" than yours?

This dilemma also reveals a difference in learning styles. Dependent learners will wait patiently until all the details are given. During the working period, they are constantly checking to see if they are doing it correctly. How exciting to look at the final paper—it's just what you hoped for.

On the other hand, independent learners hear only part of the instructions, just enough to get the juices flowing. They never ask for help, and they proceed to do what they think is the assignment. The final result misses the goal, but it's not too far off-center. Do you applaud their independence or scold their failure to follow instructions?

Creative Children Seem to Be More Perceptive of Details

Creative children see shades and shadows in their field of interest. They are looking for more than the obvious. They want a twist or surprise.

Creative Children Set Their Own Goals and Standards

I never completely understood this point until the day I defended my doctoral dissertation. After I was told that I had passed, Helen Sornsen, a member of my doctoral committee, said, "You know you wrote two dissertations, don't you? Your committee would have been satisfied with either one." Recovering from shock, I asked, "What do you mean?"

"Well, you wrote one dissertation on creativity and another one on children's creative writing." She smiled.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I was confused. I recalled the many hours I had spent doing the research and computing the statistics.

Her response was memorable. Now, 46 years later, I am even more convinced that she stated one of the greatest motivations for creativity. She said, "You wouldn't have been satisfied."

And she was right. The urge to do something is an impulse to be creative. The accolades and approval of others are never as satisfying as knowing you have done your best and reached your goal. Sometimes it is even easier to please others than it is to please yourself.

Characteristics of the Creative Child

The process of understanding anything is simplified if we have specific things to look for. Humanity may be scrutinized and evaluated on scores of specific characteristics. For our purposes, I would like to consider 10.

1.)     The creative child is intelligent. It is impossible to create without substance, but genius is not required. It is important to recognize this amazing fact: an individual may be highly intelligent in some areas, and average or below average in other disciplines. Likewise, it is possible to be highly creative in one field and average in most others.

2.)     The creative child is an idea person. Creative individuals have the ability to consider multiple ways to solve problems. However, the conception of an idea does not assure the capacity to develop and/or implement the idea. Knowing what needs to be done is only the first step.

3.)     The creative child has a keen perception of himself in his world. As long as he is permitted to stay in his world, he understands and appreciates who he is and what he can do. He knows his boundaries, but he is willing to push them on his terms.

4.)     The creative child is not afraid to be different or to differ with others. He is more likely to start a fad than to follow one. For him, being different is not a burden to bear but a badge of honor—if his self-esteem has not been crushed by criticism about his style in dress, design, or even behavior.

5.)     The creative child is relatively uninhibited. He is not afraid to take chances. He may clearly understand the boundaries, but he would probably like to push them in one direction or another.

6.)     The creative child can be completely focused on a project if it offers something different. The child who seems flighty, lackadaisical, disinterested, or bored can shift to 100% involvement if it is his project or his idea. No amount of time is too great to spend on his vision. Egocentric? Maybe, but most of the things we enjoy were designed, created, or invented by people who could stay on the task until the problem was solved.

7.)     The creative child who has no energy to do mundane, routine activities can suddenly be energized beyond measure when an idea strikes. Self-motivation is the greatest motivation and the most long-lasting. It is hard to give up on your own idea, and adrenaline provides the power to keep at it. 

8.)     The creative child has strong interest in the whys. An accurate response to the question of why creative children ask endless questions could be, "I know I don't have to know, but I just want to know." Creative kids are curious, but don't be surprised if they have limited areas of interest.

9.)     The creative child is opinionated. Creative kids know what they like and are willing to let you know precisely what it is. It is important to remember that their tenacity may be limited to only certain topics or disciplines.

10.)   The creative child trusts his intuition. It may be difficult, if not impossible, for him to adequately present a convincing argument for a position he holds. A creative child will trust his intuition until a factual demonstration proves him wrong. Even then he is reluctant to yield.

Whenever you are examining human behavior, it is important to remember this bit of advice: each person is to be loved, not dissected. In the process of looking at various aspects of creativity and creative children, we must remain constantly aware that we are created in God's image.

God created and said it was good. We constantly strive to follow His example, and in the next installment of this series, we will consider four things: fostering creativity, developing a pattern for doing creative activities, compiling a list of what parents should give creative (all) children, and finally examining how this information may be used in releasing creativity through creative writing. 

*This article published January 12, 2010.


Dr. Marvin G. Baker did pioneer research in creativity and received his EdD from Ball State University. His doctoral dissertation, Motivation for the Release of Creativity through Creative Writing, was based on 2400 writing samples of sixth grade students.

Originally published in Home School Enrichment Magazine. Now, get a FREE subscription to HSE Digital by visiting www.HSEmagazine.com/digital Every issue is packed with homeschool encouragement, help, and information. Get immediate access to the current issue when you start your FREE subscription today!