Written by Sarah Logemann
How many uses can you think of for a paper clip?
Questions like this have been used to measure creativity in children and adults for many decades. Along with a multitude of other tests, the results have been undeniable and overwhelmingly consistent…
Children are VERY creative.
This conclusion is not at all surprising to anyone who spends time within earshot of the imaginative play of children. (Or anyone who hears a wildly fantastic story about how the cookies ended up under the covers of a 4-year-old’s bed).
Kids are naturally good at divergent thinking – generating several unique ideas in response to questions like the paper clip one. For a 5-year-old, a paper clip could be a shovel for a mouse, a sock-connector, or marker to draw on the moon. Divergent responses like these dramatically lessen with age. By the time adults answer the question, their previous experiences and learned categories of the world limit the imaginative vigor they are able to bring to the situation.
Creativity is like a muscle that has to be worked out as we grow.
It is a muscle that helps people of all ages live out a life of faith.
God is so much bigger than we can ever comprehend. Throughout the narrative of the Bible, God’s creative power and work are evident, from the very creation of the world itself all the way through to the promises of the world to come. Scripture proclaims that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts, and that God can accomplish more than we can ask or even imagine.
How many times might we miss God’s action in the world because we are not creative enough to see it in any way other than what we would have imagined or engineered? How can we open our senses to engage with a mysterious God?
In many ways, children’s natural inclination toward creativity is a spiritual gift to be nurtured and learned from. Our greatest task as adults is not to squash the innate creativity of children in our care. Instead, we can work out the creativity muscle by:
- Wondering about questions and situations before we rush to find an answer. With the technological capacity to immediately satisfy any curiosity, it takes discipline to wonder about problems and questions before googling them. Wonder what animal has the longest legs. Wonder out loud how to support a neighbor whose dog just died. Wonder together about stories from the Bible. Wonder why a classmate might have been mean today.
- Allowing children to create in a judgment free space where failure is accepted. Growing in self-consciousness is a natural part of getting older. If kids are worried that adults are laughing at their work or looking only for success, they will become less imaginative. Create safe spaces that encourage play, experiments, and imagination.
- Modeling convergent thinking. While children are better at divergent thinking, adults can bring convergent thinking skills to the table. Convergent thinking acts as a filter for divergent thinking - identifying patterns and using experience to create reasonable and effective solutions. Both divergent and convergent thinking are necessary for creativity to flourish. As your child blows your mind with divergent observations and ideas, share your observations about their creative work with connective convergent tissue.
Creativity is a gift from The Creator. If we let them, children may be our best guides as we seek to wonder about the world and God’s presence within it.
SARAH LOGEMANN is a Masters of Divinity candidate at Princeton Theological Seminary. She has spent the last thirteen years working in congregations in Seattle, Ohio, New Jersey, and New York City engaging children, youth, and young adults in spiritual formation. A former ballerina, Sarah is interested in connecting movement, stories, and faith. She loves wondering, running, and watching the Tour de France.
Studies referenced used the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking – based on work by J.P. Guilford.
Gopnick and Griffiths, “What Happens to Creativity as We Age?” The New York Times. August 19, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/19/opinion/sunday/what-happens-to-creativity-as-we-age.html?mcubz=3
Bronson and Merryman, “The Creativity Crisis” Newsweek. July 10, 2010. http://www.newsweek.com/creativity-crisis-74665
 Isaiah 55:9, Ephesians 3:20