For Babies and Toddlers, It’s About Being Creative

For Babies and Toddlers, It’s About Being Creative

As follow-up to my last post regarding allowing young children shine their lantern of consciousness on their world, rather than medicating them into submission and dullness, I found the above-linked March 21, 2014 article lingering on my iPhone, just waiting to be shared with those who work with and raise children.

Timothy Egan, contributing op-ed writer for the NY Times, writes in his article Creativity vs. Quants about the value of creativity.  Creativity is one of those skills, as he writes, that “eludes the captors of knowledge, even though colleges are trying to teach it, corporations are trying to own it, and Apple has a “creativity app.”  He points out that “perhaps because creativity remains so unquantifiable, it’s still getting shortchanged by educators,” which results in the compression of “the sum of education for an average American 17-year-old into the bloodless numbers of standardized test scores.”  He reveals that there is pushback “from people who feel that music, art and other unmeasured values got left behind — that the Common Core stifles creativity” and that “educators teach for the test, but not for the messy brains of the kids in the back rows.”  According to Egan, colleges and employers complain that high schools are turning out too many graduates unprepared for the modern world, and he suggests that it’s because of the focus on test scores and numbers rather than on what kids really need to be successful in the world.

As parents, caregivers or educators of children ages birth to 3 years old (and even older!), it’s important to keep in mind that early childhood is not about quantifying, crunching the data of benchmarks and standards, precise calculations about hours spent reading to or limiting the screen time of young children.  Early childhood is about kids experiencing creativity, aha moments, messiness and magic.  It’s about serendipity, where babies and toddlers discover their world through the the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy and beneficial way, which cannot be measured or quantified. In my experience, the successful brain development that happens for babies and toddlers, who go on to become successful in school as well as in life, comes from “time off, and time out,” just as Egan tells us the amazing bouts of creativity came to people like John Lennon, Steve Jobs and Oscar Wilde.  Egan writes:

John Lennon wrote “Nowhere Man,” as he recalled it in an interview that ran just before he was murdered in 1980: After working five hours trying to craft a song, he had nothing to show for it. “Then, ‘Nowhere Man’ came, words and music, the whole damn thing as I lay down.”

 Here’s how Steve Jobs came up with the groundbreaking font selection when Apple designed the Mac: He had taken a class in the lost art of calligraphy and found it “beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture.” Ten years later, it paid off when Apple ushered in a typeface renaissance.

 And here’s how Oscar Wilde defined his profession: “A writer is someone who has taught his mind to misbehave.”

Egan also writes about the success of as a company “trying to crowd source and metrically mold its way into producing its own ‘content’ by gathering data on millions of readers and then giving the same thing back to them.”  But, he tells us that’s method of quantifying what people want does not make for success in creating content.  He says:

At Amazon, the quants rule. Daydreaming, pie-in-the-sky time and giving people room to fail — the vital ingredients of creativity — are costly, the first things to go at a data-driven company. As a business model, Amazon is a huge success. As a regular generator of culture-altering material, it’s a bit player. Why? It has marginalized messiness.

I hear Egan speaking directly to me as a mother and speech therapist working with children.  He reminds me that each child is more like a great work of art or music, the orphaned oddball story that becomes a publishing world smash, or the little film everyone rejected because, well, it wasn’t like anything else, than he or she is a bundle of data that can be quantified. Egan writes nothing of childhood, but, for me, he paints a picture of what early childhood should look like:  full of adventuring in one’s mind, exploring the limits of one’s mind and world, pushing oneself to learn as much as can be learned in the waking hours of the day.  And, then, it’s time for a bed!



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