creative thinking

Creative thinking: how to stimulate one of the key skills of the 21st century

15 September, 2022
Creative thinking has quickly become one of the indispensable skills in everyone's portfolio and is essential in all areas of work and life.
Creative thinking helps prepare young people to adapt to a changing world. Today's children will be employed in jobs that don't yet exist, using new technologies to solve emerging problems and challenges.

Across the world, education systems are trying to gather information and generate valuable and relevant training programmes for a dynamic future. The jobs of today, and certainly the jobs we do not yet know but which the future holds, will focus on creative and flexible thinking, problem solving and idea generation. When children are supported early on to develop creative thinking, they become better equipped to adapt to change and to tackle increasingly complex challenges with innovative solutions.

What is creative thinking?

Creative thinking involves the generation of valuable and original ideas and can be applied not only in contexts related to the expression of imagination, such as creative writing, painting, illustration, music or theatre, but also in other areas where the generation of ideas is functional to the investigation of issues, problems or concerns at the level of society as a whole.

When children engage in creative thinking they discover and develop their potential. Educational institutions play an important role in the harmonious formation of children's skills, essential for everyday life, beyond preparing them for success in the labour market. Creative thinking is a valuable element that supports learning, helping children to interpret experiences and information in new and personally meaningful ways, even in the context of formal learning objectives. 

Creative thinking fuels students' motivation and interest in learning, encourages exploration and discovery, and can be an integrated part of a range of subjects, from languages and arts to STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects. Creative thinking helps students to be imaginative, develop original ideas, think 'out of the box', from multiple perspectives and solve problems.

Creativity is multidimensional 
In the literature, creativity is broadly understood as the interaction of skills, process and environment, whereby an individual or group produces a perceptible product that is both novel and useful, as defined within a social context.

Several theories of creativity recognise the importance and interaction of relevant knowledge and skills, divergent and convergent thought processes, task motivation and a rewarding environment to support creative engagement with a task.

PISA, the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment, defines creative thinking as "the competence to engage productively in generating, evaluating and improving ideas that can lead to original and effective solutions, advances in knowledge and impactful expressions of imagination".

thinking skills EN

Creativity can manifest itself in many different ways, from intellectual or technological breakthroughs, artistic or literary masterpieces that require significant expertise and dedication, to flexible thinking open to new perspectives, which we develop through practice and exercise. It also encompasses and influences many elements that children can develop and use in countless contexts:

Before we can think creatively about something, we must first understand it. This requires the ability to examine things carefully to know what they mean. Whether you are referring to a text, a set of data, a plan or an equation, you need to be able to analyse. 

Thinking creatively means putting aside any assumptions or prejudices we have and looking at things in a completely new way.

Problem solving
Finding the right solutions to a specific problem is a useful skill both for academic or professional environments and for everyday activities and allows us to overcome challenges successfully. 

Planning skills
Once the creative solution is found, organisation comes back into the picture, helping to ensure that the set goal is achieved. Structuring a plan with clear objectives and deadlines is a complementary pillar of the creative thinking process. 

People will only appreciate our creative idea or solution if we manage to communicate it effectively, through clear verbal and non-verbal messages.

What internal resources do children need to think creatively? 

Cognitive skills 
Convergent and divergent thinking are both widely recognised as important cognitive skills for creative thinking. Convergent thinking refers to the ability to apply conventional and logical reasoning to the information we come into contact with. As such, convergent thinking helps to understand the problem space and identify good ideas. Divergent thinking refers to the ability to follow new approaches, to have original ideas and to discover new ways of 'solving', making flexible connections between ideas and information, adopting different perspectives.

Goal orientation and creative self-beliefs 
Persistence, perseverance and self-efficacy influence creative thinking by providing a strong sense of goal orientation and the belief that goals can be achieved. Investing effort in achieving a goal and overcoming difficulties are key to generating creative thinking, all of which enable children to maintain their focus for long periods of time and to cope with challenges that arise.  

Working with others 
Collaborating with others helps children to explore and build on the ideas of others, as well as improve their own ideas. This can boost knowledge creation, facilitating the development of solutions to complex problems that are beyond the capabilities of any one person.

Task motivation
Intrinsic task motivation leads children to complete a task because they find it inherently satisfying. The experience of 'creative flow' - being fully absorbed and persistent in a task - is a powerful driver of creativity,and motivation from within is essential.  Extrinsic task motivation refers to external incentives or goals. While research emphasises the importance of intrinsic motivation for creative engagement, extrinsic motivators can also encourage children to persist in their creative endeavours.

Why is it important for students to develop creative thinking?

Creative thinking can have a positive influence on students' academic interest and achievement, identity, and social-emotional development by supporting the interpretation of experiences, actions, and events in new and personally meaningful ways.

Beyond the classroom, creative thinking can help children adapt to a rapidly changing world. Supporting creative thinking can help them to contribute to the development of the society in which they live, today and as future workers: organisations and societies around the world increasingly depend on innovation and knowledge creation to meet emerging and complex challenges, which makes innovation and creative thinking as collective enterprises urgent.

Improving children's creative thinking skills

Reading habits
The more your child reads, the more they will be aware of emotions, have a rich vocabulary and imagine favourite stories and characters.  Written content in articles, books, comics and other materials provides a vast source of information from which your child's creativity can benefit. When we form healthy reading habits, we open children's minds to a whole new world and show them new ways to solve problems. 

Daily reading challenges the child to think differently or to identify with the characters in the stories by imitating a creative thing that happened to them along the way. It is valuable to support children to retell, using their own words, the chapter they have just completed. We can also encourage them to construct original stories or compositions of their own using cards or story cube games. 

Curiosity is expressed through questions
One of the main ways to develop creative thinking in children is to encourage them to wonder. Every question your child asks is an opportunity for them to learn and use information.

Children's curiosity is a limitless source that facilitates learning and it is valuable to build on this curiosity with questions that capture children's views and opinions.

Responsibilities provide contexts for training creative thinking
When young children step out of their comfort zone and take on a set of responsibilities, they train their creative thinking by finding new solutions to the challenges they encounter. 

Time and space
Developing skills in a methodical way is important. But it is important to give children enough space to freely explore their imagination. If young children have free time, without scheduled activities, this time can be used to unleash creativity and generate new ideas. 

Puzzles: brain training
These brain-building games are a great way to develop your child's pattern recognition, spatial perception, language skills, coordination, motor skills, problem solving, cognitive and creative skills. Some examples of such games are Sudoku, Scrabble, crosswords, Rubik's cubes and logic puzzles.

Creative power and agility
Our creative abilities are not predetermined. We can train our creativity just like we can train our physical muscles.  While we may not feel we have innate creativity in a particular area, we can take steps to develop our creative ability and it is vital that young children understand this from an early age.  We can strengthen our creative strengths and agility in the classroom by activating a variety of skills - thinking, designing, creating and writing.  We can develop children's capacities by providing opportunities to build, create, perform, plan and explore. We can develop these creative muscles if we take steps every day to infuse creativity into our daily routines.  

Together, we can unlock creativity in ways that will support learning in the classroom as well as beyond school walls.

Building creative thinking can start with small steps. Many people believe that creative thinking is an innate quality, but there is growing evidence to suggest that it is a skill that can be learned. Encouraging children to explore their creative interests helps them become problem solvers and critical thinkers. Creative thinking is the ability to find new approaches and ideas, and this essential life skill allows children to connect the dots and see the bigger picture, and is certainly worth developing in children from an early age.


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