How to be Creative: It’s Child’s Play! 

Imogen Bond, our expert on all things creative, believes we should play more and be open to making mistakes in order to unlock our creativity…

I saw an Easter bunny this morning – all white ears and sparkly skirt, skipping along in the spring sunshine. 

Humming to herself and swinging her basket of eggs, she was completely oblivious to everything else going on around her, whilst her older brother in school uniform and mum, laden with scooters and schools bags, trundled along behind. 

Having given the Easter Bunny a wave, I spent the rest of my walk thinking about the hours I’d spent diving into the dressing up box when I was little, and wondering why it is we grow out of that kind of playfulness?

Being willing to play is key to creativity. In order to make something new, you need bucket loads of an ingredient found in playfulness: the courage to make mistakes. 

The Easter bunny was whirling along the pavement totally untroubled by worries of whether she was getting ‘how to be a bunny’ wrong. It would have been laughable for me to stop and tell her that bunnies hop rather than twirl; within her Easter bunny world, there was no concept of what was the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to travel. The Easter bunny cared not a jot for ‘rules’ – she was just having a lovely time, and in the process was doing with sublime ease something most adults find incredibly difficult. Plus, she brought a bit of magic to my morning. 

Don’t fear failure

As we grow up, we worry more about making mistakes; we become less resilient to ‘going wrong’. The great Ken Robinson talked about this in his books, as well as his brilliant TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? 

Robinson explains that ‘if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you won’t come up with anything original’ –  fearlessness of failure sits at the heart of creativity. 

He goes on to say that all around the world, our national education systems tell us that ‘mistakes are the worst things you can make.’ Using Picasso’s idea that all children are born artists to illustrate his point, he carries on: ‘We don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it – or rather, we get educated out of it.’ 

Robinson’s talk concludes with the idea that as we are educating children for a future we can’t possibly predict, perhaps that should cause us to ask what education is actually for? He suggests that the current system only teaches children to get through the education system – it doesn’t prepare them for that unknown future, or even encourage them to do the things they love. 

Creativity and the curriculum

To be clear, I don’t think this is the fault of teachers, who are trying to offer a broad and balanced curriculum under extraordinary pressures, but rather it’s the system they’re working within that is the trouble. Tired, proscriptive curriculums with exams that reduce learning to what can most easily be measured, these are the things that kill creativity.

I’m not suggesting there’s no value in the curriculum as it stands – but perhaps thinking about how subjects are taught, spending time encouraging imagination, play, and developing resilience to (and perhaps even joy in) making mistakes, is really the only way to prepare for that unknown future. Back in 2006, Ken Robinson was suggesting that ‘creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.’ I quite agree. 

But until our education system changes, and for those of us beyond formal education, we’ll just have to look for moments of play in everyday life. So next time there’s a chance to dive into the dressing up box and dance down the pavement, why not throw caution to the wind and have a go?

Imogen Bond

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