Christian Homeschool Resources & Homeschooling Advice

Coming to Grips with a Creative Child, Part 1

  • Dr. Marvin G. Baker Home School Enrichment
  • Published Oct 26, 2009
Coming to Grips with a Creative Child, Part 1

If you have a creative child, there are at least two times when he completely frustrates you. One is when you know he can do it, but he won't. The other is when he deliberately only almost follows directions. Are the two situations the same? Is one sheer stubbornness and the other a creative happening? Only the child knows for certain, and he's not telling.

The relationship between the two situations merits an examination at another time. However, if you have a creative child and you don't understand him, don't blame him! He didn't ask to be creative or misunderstood! Actually, most creative individuals don't understand themselves. I know from personal experience. I'm the child whose mother declared, "You can find 13 ways to ask the same question!"

The Importance of Creativity

I sincerely believe God allowed me to get my doctoral degree to better understand myself and to help others gain insight into the phenomenon called creativity. Motivation for the Release of Creativity through Creative Writing was the title of my doctoral research.

Robert Browning, a 19th-century writer, described one of his characters in this manner: "He is not so much a human being as he is a civil war." That could be a description of a creative individual trying to make a decision. Creative people see so many possibilities, and they are heartbroken because they can't do them all. They are often prone to start more projects than they can finish. Without direction and self-discipline, it is easy for the creative individual to lose focus and, like the double-minded man, become unstable in his thinking. Consequently, his values may become distorted.

Creativity is really important to God because, according to Genesis 1:1, creating was the first thing He did. God obviously liked what He accomplished through the creative process, for He said it was very good. It is interesting to note that in the Scriptures, God's creation is the only thing He bragged about. That's not too surprising, though, for His creation includes everything.

Have you dared to imagine how much happiness God experienced in deciding what He would create? When He was finished with the universe, He chose to create man in His image. He gave us intelligence so we could communicate with him and creativity so we could experience the joy of making something new and different.

Uncomfortable with Creativity

Have you ever wondered why people are at ease if their child is identified as brilliant but anxious if he is branded creative? It's as if intelligence is to be desired and praised, but creativity is to be avoided and debased. It's a strange paradox: People rarely talk about God's intelligence, but His creativity is constantly observed and celebrated. Conversely, we readily discuss man's intelligence, but we fret about his creativity.

Consider these questions: Why this difference? Is it because we have a greater understanding of the intellectual process than we do of the creative process? Is there an innate difference between the two? Is it because we have developed objective measures for intelligence, but creativity is hard to quantify and thus remains subjective?

Research reveals that creativity is universal. For example, whenever we fail to meet expectations, our creativity comes to the fore and we "create" excuses. Since it is universal, why do we know so little about it?

Society has a love-hate relationship with creativity, and creative people are caught in the middle. They are misunderstood because they are on the cutting edge of their culture. This may be because creativity always involves change. People clamor for it, but as soon as you begin to introduce it, resistance consolidates and the battle is on.

Men are anxious for change if it doesn't affect their own plans.

Let people go hungry; let them fight or even die.

Just don't bother my job or my lands.

(Does Anyone Really Want Peace?)

Creativity bothers us and forces us out of our routines. A lot of other things do too, but creativity is unpredictable, uncertain, and frequently undesired. Change is threatening, and no one likes to be threatened. Each one perceives the change he proposes as a positive improvement and therefore as nonthreatening, but the changes of others are considered disruptive. If change proposed by an adult is scary, when you add a child's inexperience and his creativity, prospects can seem almost life-threatening.

Identifying the Creative Child

Parents have told me, "My ‘different' child concerns me. His unusual approach to routine assignments disturbs my comfort zone, and I spend time trying to understand why that bothers me. Then someone labels him creative, and I wonder what that means. What is creativity?"

Officially, creativity is the process of assimilating previous learning and experiences into a product which differs significantly in form, content, or method of presentation from any previous product. Now that is stuffy! Definitions usually are, because they try to cover the exceptions.

It would not be surprising if sometime you asked, "Who is this child who is disrupting my world, and why is it happening?" To put it simply, he's not behaving like you expected. Because he is acting differently than other kids his age, you wonder if he's normal. So you ask your spouse and circle of friends, "Will he be okay? Is he really learning what he needs to know?"

Of this we can be certain: creative kids have a strong desire to know. And the desire to know is accompanied with an equally strong urge to do—now. Creativity always seems to have a sense of urgency. That's why creative kids often start something without waiting to ask permission. The child's self-confidence and self-directedness, which in some situations would be welcomed, in this circumstance contributes to parental frustration.

Consider this scenario: Directions have been given for completing a specific task. Your creative child may honestly have no desire to disobey, but it's hard to follow directions precisely. He just has a different interpretation of the assignment, and he tries to discern the intent of the lesson. He may sincerely believe he is pursuing the goal you set, yet he is absolutely certain he knows a better way to accomplish it than the way you presented.

How do you cope with his failure to follow the directions—especially when he may have chosen a better way and achieved a greater result? Do you scold him for his stubborn disobedience or applaud him for his creativity?

There is one fairly reliable way to determine if a creative child is being stubborn or creative. Examine the outcome. Creativity always seeks a product, or to produce a change. Stubbornness is energy expended on maintaining the status quo. The creative child will attempt to persuade you that the new or different is acceptable. The stubborn child will resist change and will offer no supporting reasons except, "I don't want to."

At what point do we begin to identify and refer to a child as creative? Individual differences are quickly recognized, but to be considered creative, a child must create a product which differs significantly in form, content, or method of presentation. The difficulty in identifying creative products and creative individuals hinges on the word "significantly." Significantly different is a personal judgment.

Wrestling With Creativity in Academia

Few questions are raised about the intelligent child, and we freely accept a wide range of intellectual ability. There is an undefined normal range that is attributed to individual differences, but we struggle when a product differs from that undefined "normal" result. Nonconformists and the visually and verbally creative can quickly make us uncomfortable.

Interest in creativity as distinct from intelligence was a 20th-century development. For centuries, the person who had unusual or different ideas and solutions to problems was labeled either "gifted" or idiosyncratic and strange. Finally, people began to notice that some really great discoveries were being made by ordinary people instead of those acclaimed as "gifted." That was disturbing, but even more disturbing were the mediocre products developed by those assumed to be "gifted." The lines between the intelligent and the "different" were becoming blurred. There was a growing interest in the relationship between intelligence and these other "non-gifted" gifted people.

Throughout history there were architects, artists, musicians and writers, the scholarly and obviously gifted souls, who were destined to be the guardians of the culture and civilization. Craftsmen, farmers, warriors, and maybe politician-statesmen were needed to keep the world functioning, but they were not the cultural leaders and had limited impact on world affairs. Your station in society was fixed. You were a leader or you were to be led. The intelligentsia set the rules, the boundaries.

Finally, in 1950, J. Paul Gilford focused attention on creativity and its relationship to other psychological factors. He examined the index of Psychological Abstracts for every year since its beginning in 1926. The neglect of the subject of creativity was appalling to him. Only two-tenths of one percent of all the more than 120,000 research studies were related to the subject of creativity. That list included headings of imagination, originality, and thinking.

Then came Sputnik, Russia's world-shaking entrance into outer space.

The shock administered to our nation's prestige rushed the schools of the United States into a variety of crash programs. One was a frantic search for the gifted. It was hoped that after identifying them it would be possible to tap their mental resources and proceed to recoup the nation's former self-image . . ." (Motivation for the Release of Creativity Through Creative Writing, p.4)

The race was on to find other measures of identifying the gifted. Until then, giftedness was used almost synonymously with intelligence, and intelligence was determined by standardized IQ test scores. High academic performance in school-like activities and environments was not necessarily creative and certainly did not reward divergent thinking.

It was obvious that there had to be other ways to identify intelligence besides those IQ tests. The creative geniuses needed to maintain scientific leadership had, with few exceptions, been overlooked or deliberately ignored. Now perhaps there was a glimmer of hope for those who secretly considered thinking outside the box.

A follow-up study of individuals who 35 years earlier had been identified as "gifted" reported some shocking information. Ninety-three percent of the initial group was a part of the follow-up study. As a group, they demonstrated superior physical, social, and emotional stability. Their intellectual, scholastic, and vocational achievements were noteworthy, but the group did not produce any great creative work.

This finding was indeed a catalyst for an emphasis on something "more than" and "different from" book learning. Education, business, and industry all began a desperate search for methods of identifying those who could create and invent, who could help regain our national leadership. Science and math took on a new significance in the academic program. Educators began to accept the reality that there might be essentially two worlds, the academic world with its traditional school-like activities and a different world on the job that called for creative activities very different from those pursued in school.

It was in this atmosphere that I started my doctoral research on the motivation for the release of creativity. At that time, some of the earliest research on creativity was less than 30 years old. But the characteristics of the creative, the creative process, fostering creativity, and related research topics centered almost entirely on an adult population. They produced interesting information, but what about kids and creativity? What can we do to help them understand and cope with these urges to "do something" before they become turned off by too many people saying, "That's not the way you're supposed to do it"?

Motivation and the Creative Child

I wanted to know what motivates a creative activity, specifically, what motivates a sixth-grade student to complete a creative writing assignment. Twelve years of teaching had confirmed that a large majority of students are not overjoyed with any writing assignment. It was not long after my research was begun in 1961 that one of my university professors held the position that children were incapable of creating anything original. Working with over 400 sixth-grade students quickly convinced me otherwise.

During the last 50 years, doors have continually opened wider to students who are intelligent but have less interest in the typical, traditional academic program. Originality has received some encouragement and is credited with having some value. Elementary students, for example, have begun to value imagination. During a classroom visit while I was conducting my research, a student remarked, "I'm glad to know it's all right to have an imagination. My mom is always telling me to forget that stuff and get real."

When you remember that creativity is God's idea, you realize that we haven't valued this gift too highly. It's time to use all the gifts with which we are endowed. 

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. In 2007, he introduced the Tweener Time International Chapter Book Competition, now with more than $250,000 in scholarships to winning students. Learn more at

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