(This post is adapted from a chapter in my book “Teaching Creativity.”)
In my music classes, we often do creative brainstorming with rhythm instruments. One child at a time offers an idea for a way to play the instrument, and then the rest of the group will experiment with that movement.
One time, we were playing rhythm sticks when one little girl raised her hand quietly. “What is your idea?” I asked her. She held the tops of the sticks and danced them around gracefully.
“Oh, they’re dancing sticks,” I said, while imitating her movements, and the group started to try it out.
“No!” the girl called out, very firmly. “They’re princesses.”
I immediately apologized for my mistake, and we all turned our sticks into princesses.
So this princess story had a happy ending, but this incident really made me stop and think. How many other times had i jumped in with my own interpretation of a child’s words or motions, slamming the brakes on her train of thought and taking over her ideas? I’ll never know, because many children aren’t able to be as assertive as this little girl was.
Since then, I try to:
Listen and watch carefully
Refrain from interrupting
Be sure I understand each child’s intention
The result has been an outpouring of expressive and unusual ideas. Musical instruments have become elephants’ trunks, vacuum cleaners, anteater tongues, hats, hot dogs, and literally hundreds of other things.
Careful listening, not interrupting, showing a sincere attempt to understand: this can all be summed up in one word – respect. Respect for children and their ideas is the secret ingredient to unlocking children’s creative potentials.