How to Listen Out Loud


(This piece is adapted from my book “Teaching Creativity” (Whitmore Books, 2014).

E. Paul Torrance, one of the pioneers of creativity education, suggested that to nurture creativity, “We can show children that their ideas have value by listening to their ideas and considering them” ( Torrance and Goff, 1990). Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?

The key word is show. It’s not enough to just listen – children need proof that you’re listening. Maybe it’s because they’re so used to not being listened to.

For instance, if a child says, “I’m making a castle for the dinosaur,” it’s not enough to say, “Great,” or “Awesome”. For young children, these words are basically code for “Whatever. I’m not really paying attention.” To show her you’re listening, you need to respond meaningfully to what she told you – something along the lines of, “How big is the castle going to be?” or “Wow! If I were a dinosaur I’d love to have my own castle!”

Psychologists call this “active listening,” and as teachers we know to use this in situations when children are upset or angry, to defuse tense moments. But it’s equally important when it comes to creative thinking. If young children feel their ideas aren’t being acknowledged, they’ll stop sharing their ideas. And sometimes they’ll actually stop having as many ideas.

The great news is that when we take the time to actively show young children that their ideas are interesting and valuable, their creative confidence will grow and thrive.


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