When you consider creative thinking skills for kids, it’s easy to imagine those skills being useful in art class. But creative thinking skills are becoming more essential in every career as well as in everyday life.
Creative thinking skills are vital to making progress in today’s fast-moving world. Innovation depends on new ideas from creative minds. And you can develop these skills in your students in a variety of ways, once you understand what they are.
Today’s greatest thinkers, inventors, and leaders use these skills and you can teach your students to use them, too!
Here are 5 creative thinking skills that kids can learn, along with some specific ideas for teaching them. The concepts are simple and can be applied across the curriculum.
5 Creative Thinking Skills for Kids
Fluency is the ability to generate a long list of ideas, solutions, or questions. For example, have kids list the possible materials an artist could use to create their art. Or list ideas of things to draw or paint that begin with the letter “A”. Or list everything you can think of that is some shade of “white”.
Kids always enjoy “Circle Brainstorming”. Give them a sheet of paper filled with circles. Then have them use those circles to create drawings of things that are either made up of a circular shape or have a circle inside of them. (Hint – your drawing doesn’t have to stay inside the circle!)
Flexibility is the ability to “see things differently”, from an uncommon or unexpected perspective. Flexibility involves breaking old habits, patterns, and traditions, and being “open-minded”.
Some ideas for practicing flexibility could be listing all the ways you can think of to use a toilet paper tube, or making up new names for a famous painting. Making associations between unrelated things is another form of “flexibility”, as you’ll find with my “Elements of Art Memory Game”.
The “MacGyver Project” is a fun way to practice flexibility. Divide students into teams and assign a larger-than-life “problem” to solve (like world peace). Then give each team a set of everyday items, like paper plates, string, popsicle sticks, masking tape, etc., and see how creative they can be.
Originality is the ability to express ideas that are unconventional, unusual, novel, or unique. You might ask kids to create a new kind of animal inspired by Dr. Seuss, and then come up with a clever name for it.
Students could also design a robot made without any straight lines. Or design a playground for people and their pets.
“Creature Feature” is a fun activity for encouraging originality. Have kids draw an imaginary creature, give it a name, and describe it. What is its habitat? What does it eat and what eats it? If nothing eats it, why not? What body parts or special skills help it survive?
Elaboration is the ability to take ideas a step further, filling in the details and adding finishing touches. Elaboration enhances an idea.
For example, you could ask students to “Add lines to turn the number ‘4’ into something different.” Or, have them write a detailed story about how they came up with a good idea they’ve had.
You can encourage your students to use higher order thinking skills to extend and enhance their projects with a “Creative Extension Spinner“.
“Enhance-a-Doodle” is fun when you have just a few extra minutes to fill. Have each student make a quick abstract doodle and pass it to the person next to them to add to it and turn it into a masterpiece!
5. Risk Taking
Risk taking can be the most challenging of these skills for many students. It involves the ability to generate and share ideas that are outside the norm.
It’s important to have a non-threatening environment for practicing this skill. Students are more willing to take risks with their ideas if they believe there are no wrong answers and that unconventional thinking will be welcomed.
When students are afraid of making mistakes they tend to conform or sometimes rebel. The most productive risk-taking happens when students aren’t worried about their ideas being laughed at or rejected.
Taking risks, experimenting, and making mistakes are essential to creativity and all involve failing sometimes.
But when the consequences of failure are too great, it causes kids to think twice before putting themselves out there again. So have students start with small risks that will be easier to recover from if they fail.
“Brainstorming” is great practice for small scale risk-taking and accepting a flow of ideas without fear of criticism or evaluation. Encourage ‘wild ideas’ and write them all down. Keep going and don’t stop too soon. This is one case where quantity breeds quality!
To introduce brainstorming, draw a ‘dot’ on the board and have students brainstorm the possibilities of what it might be. Remember to write down every answer, no matter how far-fetched. It can be helpful to have a volunteer “scribe” to write for you while you call on students to keep the brainstorming moving quickly.
For a more involved brainstorming session, first watch this short YouTube video. It offers some great ideas for successful brainstorming in a classroom setting.
The 5 creative thinking skills I’ve mentioned above are fluid and flexible. They often overlap and combine with each other to generate new ideas and solutions to problems.
Helping kids learn to think creatively early on will help them more easily adopt new creative thinking skills throughout their lives.
an inspiring quote:
“Discovery consists of looking at the same thing as everyone else and thinking something different.” ~ Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
This is essentially “flexibility” in action! But all 5 of the skills listed above can work together to create the opportunity for discovery to happen.
As kids develop creative thinking skills, they will naturally become better problem solvers and innovators. This will serve them well in their schoolwork, in their personal lives, and beyond.
a question to consider:
Which of these 5 creative thinking skills can you use right now to help you solve a problem you have?