Kindergarten is more than sitting on a massive alphabet-stamped carpet and waiting for the best toy to become available. It’s more than climbing up the jungle-gym ladder at lunchtime and crossing your fingers that the slide doesn’t burn your legs on the way down (ouch!). And it’s more than falling asleep next to your buddy after a big ol’ glass of milk. Kindergarten is so much more than toy wars and chocolate milk surprises—it’s where creative thinking skills emerge!
In today’s society, it’s commonly understood that a kindergarten is a place where children reach significant physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and linguistic milestones (e.g., learning to hop and skip, differentiating between fantasy and reality, making more friends, forming longer sentences, counting to 100); a place where they’ll gain new skills and become familiar with new concepts; and a place that opens up their mind—and imagination—to the possibilities that await them (Developmental Milestones at 5 Years, 2019). Teaching creative thinking skills in kindergarten helps children to explore not just themselves but the world around them.
In this article, we’ll be discussing the importance of teaching creative thinking skills in kindergarten and what additions teachers can bring to their curriculum to foster a more open, expressive environment. There’s a time to color inside of the lines, but also a time to let the crayon wander where it may—a kindergarten is a place where children can learn to do both!
Whether you’re a parent of a curious kindergartener or an inspired teacher of a Kindergarten class, you’ll find that the benefits of teaching creative thinking skills among children are endless: Engaging in creative thinking and creative expression can help children increase neural connections in their brain, therefore improving cognitive abilities. Moreover, encouraging children to engage in a wide variety of creative activities, often considered as “outside-of-the-box,” are shown to have an impact on a child’s mood, confidence, and overall well-being—quite possibly for years to come (8 Ways to Teach Kids Creative Thinking, 2020).
By channelling energy into a creative outlet or project, children will generally feel happier, more secure, and eager to learn. It’s important to remember that children are like sponges, soaking up the energy in their environment and absorbing the information they receive. Limiting a child’s imagination, or simply not promoting a creative environment where they can flourish their wings, affects how a child’s brain will ultimately develop. Without the freedom to explore, the ability to spread their wings presents a challenge.
Before taking the plunge into a new activity, a teacher may find it helpful to set the stage for the activity beforehand. Ensure there’s enough space for the activity and that you have the necessary materials on hand. For example, a teacher could have the kindergarten class pick a letter of the alphabet and draw a picture of an item that represents the letter (e.g., the letter “B” for Ball). Children can use as many, or as little, art supplies as they’d like and utilize their creative thinking skills to bring their project to life. Afterwards, children can talk to the other students about what they created.
To set the stage for this activity, a teacher may want to have the alphabet accessible, or in plain sight, as well as have enough art supplies to go around. By keeping the project open-ended, children will feel less limited about what they can create and be more confident about their choices. Setting the stage for creative thinking skills to unfold will help children become acquainted with their skills more easily (Johnson, 2019).
Sometimes, children exhibit uncertainty about using their imagination or engaging in problem-solving and brainstorming activities if they are not used to doing so at home—the absence of right and wrong answers may feel a bit unusual than what they’re accustomed to. On the other hand, a teacher may find that the lack of restrictions and a strong focus on autonomy may feel very familiar and comfortable for some children. Depending on a child’s previous life experience thus far, as well as the given family dynamics and value system at home, children will respond to creative activities and styles of creative thinking differently.
Using positive reinforcement will do wonders for a child’s confidence level when using creative thinking and engaging in activities in the classroom. A teacher can boost imagination by showing interest, asking follow-up questions, and telling the class how great they did on the activity. A teacher may also want to participate in the creative activity and provide the children with an opportunity to ask questions in return, segueing into our next tip for teaching creative thinking skills in kindergarten.
Asking open-ended questions allows children to explore their thoughts and ideas more efficiently (e.g., where is your favorite place to go on vacation and why? what do you like to do on the weekends? what does the weather look like outside today?) Close-ended questions usually involve a short response, or a yes or no answer. Open-ended questions help children learn how to organize thoughts, tell a story, and engage their memory muscles—in doing so, kindergarteners begin learning the fundamentals of a conversational exchange between two or more people. With practice, children will start asking open-ended questions in return and will soon be able to have a unique and ongoing dialogue about a topic.
Going outside for some fresh air and a change of scenery can help children feel less confined to their seats and more in touch with their emotional and physical selves. Movement and exposure to different environmental elements can encourage creativity and creative thought processes to occur. A teacher may want to bring the classroom outside to compare the trees or plants. While using their senses to explore, children will gain new insights and new information about what the tree looks like, feels like, smells like, and what the branches may even sound like against the wind—all contributing to the development of creative thinking skills and creative expression.
Free play can also assist children with strengthening their autonomy skills and imagination. When children have the freedom to explore and learn on their own (in a supportive and safe environment) achieving developmental milestones will occur naturally and with ease.
Children deserve to feel secure and supported throughout their development; tuning into a child’s specific interests and hobbies will help to nurture and advance their physical, emotional, and cognitive skills. If a child feels discouraged by a teacher or parent, or is made to feel uncomfortable about having a specific interest or hobby, then the ability to create and channel the imagination will be profoundly affected. As a teacher, it’s important to understand how each child will be drawn to different activities and develop at various paces; encouraging children to start where they are now, avoiding comparison at all costs, will help them to feel proud of themselves and excited for what’s to come.
While it’s crucial for kindergarteners to feel comfortable during the creative process, it’s also important to encourage creative risk-taking, too (8 Ways to Teach Kids Creative Thinking, 2020). Some children may always choose the same art materials when working on a project, read the same book on the bookshelf, or ask the same question during every outdoor adventure. A teacher may find it helpful to encourage a child to try something new: draw with the colored pencils instead of the crayons, give a go at the bigger book on the shelf, or ask a different question about the environmental conditions outside.
When encouraging creative risk-taking, it’s important to talk about how the change felt at first and how it felt at the end. Often, children will be surprised about how much they enjoyed the new experience and how the change wasn’t nearly as scary as they imagined it would be. Using positive reinforcement will be beneficial when incorporating creative risk-taking in kindergarten.
Try not to single out a child for not taking creative risks: a teacher may encourage the collective classroom to try something different than they normally would, even bending down next to a child to give some encouragement on the side.
Remember, when teaching creative skills in kindergarten, there’s not one approach you must take to open the door to a world of potential. A teacher may commonly find where one activity works wonderfully with the classroom, another falls a bit short. One thing is for certain: the possibilities are endless when children begin exploring their creative selves!
8 Ways to Teach Kids Creative Thinking. Waterford.org. (2020, October 28). https://www.waterford.org/resources/creative-activities-for-kids/.
Developmental Milestones at 5 Years. Child Mind Institute. (2019, January 22). https://childmind.org/guide/developmental-milestones/milestones-at-5-years/.
Johnson, B. (2019, January 16). 4 Ways to Develop Creativity in Students. Edutopia. https://www.edutopia.org/article/4-ways-develop-creativity-students.