Creativity in an early years setting is difficult to define, although definitions have been provided on the basis of the attempting to define the process of creativity, the product of a person's creativity or the personal attributes that contribute to creativity. Creativity has, for example, been defined as, "a novel and appropriate response to an open-ended task" (Amabile and Hennessey, 1992) or as "very much a processâ€¦often with no clearly identifiable outcomes or productâ€¦(allowing children the scope) to explore new possibilities and create new and exciting connections between people, places and thingsâ€¦to discover meanings in their world" (Department for Children, School and Families, 2007).
I believe, from my personal point of view, that creativity is actually a mixture of all three of these perspectives: people who have certain attributes are more likely to be able to think, and respond, creatively to certain situations and tasks, via certain processes than people who lack these attributes. Creativity, however, is more than the possession of certain attributes and is certainly not linked to intelligence: it is a factor that individuals can bring to all aspects of their lives, in terms of solving problems in all aspects of their lives in terms of approaching tasks in a creative manner in order to find creative solutions to these tasks, be these artistic endeavors or tasks related to music, mathematics or science. As the Department for Children, School and Families (2007) explain, creativity can transform understanding by fostering critical thinking, allowing children to review, reinvent and make new meanings for themselves.
Creativity thus understood defines all aspects of a child's school life, not only traditionally 'artistic' endeavors but also all other disciplines such as mathematics and the sciences: creatively thinking about numbers, for example, can lead children to understand the beauty of mathematics and the fascinating world of physics, which can open their minds to new worlds and new possibilities. Teaching mathematics by rote, seeking only the 'right' answers to set questions will only lead children to hate mathematics classes and to view mathematics as an abstracted idea that is not useful to them, practically, in their lives.
Creativity, in this sense, then, can be fostered by encouraging children to explore their surroundings, allowing them to seek their own questions about their surroundings and helping them to arrive at interesting answers for their questions, where 'interesting' answers can be understood as answers that will satisfy them and lead them to further questions. Guiding children's learning in this manner can encourage creative thinking, giving power to children's ideas and thoughts, allowing them to creatively solve problems. Allowing children to enjoy the process of thinking, of learning, of researching, can embody creativity in them, in terms of allowing them to develop their own creative responses to their learning experiences and their own creative ways of understanding the world around them.
As Amabile and Hennessey (1992) argue, "people will be most creative when they feel motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction and challenges of the work itself - rather than by external pressures" with such self-directed motivation leading to higher incidences of creativity and "self-determined competence". Self-determination, as Amabile and Hennessey (1992) argue, is central to the development of meaningful creativity, i.e., creative thinking that can have real meaning in the lives of children, allowing them to produce creative solutions to all problems they encounter. Creativity can only be fostered, and used in practice to develop meaningful ways of thinking, when three components are present: domain-relevant skills (such as knowledge, experience and talent in a particular domain); creativity-relevant skills (such as independent, flexible, risk-oriented thinking); and task motivation (with intrinsic, not extrinsic motivation being more likely to lead to creative thinking) (Amabile and Hennessey, 1992).
As Duffy (2006) argues, the promotion of "open-ended" thinking, via the use of open-ended activities, can encourage creativity in young children, encouraging the development of creative solutions via experimentation, exploration, discovery and invention. This encouragement of "open-ended" thinking, argues Duffy (2006) makes learning more meaningful to young children, allowing them, as it does, the scope to develop their own thoughts about themselves, their environment and their relationships, allowing them to develop their own creative responses to the questions that arise for them, from this understanding. Creativity can, thus, argues Duffy (2006) be encouraged and can, through this encouragement, be learned, with its ramifications, as Craft (2002) argues, being "lifewide", equipping young children with the tools they need to develop and maintain a positive, open-minded approach to learning.
As Prentice (2000) argues, it can be difficult, within the structure of early years education, with its curriculum and its goals that have to be attained, to encourage such creative thinking, in terms of not having the space to foster the conditions most likely to promote creative thought and action. In my experience, classrooms are often not conducive to the fostering of creative thinking, rather being geared towards the attainment of curriculum goals, and 'right answer' dominated thinking, i.e., teaching, and learning, aimed solely at getting the 'right' answer, not at teaching, or, rather, engendering, creative thinking processes.
My personal view of the topic is that creativity is a fundamentally important skill to teach to young children in an early years setting, in terms of equipping children with the tools they need to approach all of their subsequent learning and to move in to the world, in order to deal, not only with their academic work, but with all the situations that their life might present to them. Creative thinking, the creative invention of solutions to problems, can better help children to face not only their academic work but also their lives, allowing them to deal creatively with problems they might encounter, equipping them with the tools they need to move positively through their lives.
Creativity is fundamentally important in the early years setting, equipping children with a whole way of viewing, exploring and understanding their world, allowing them to explore new possibilities in the ways in which they learn. The importance of creativity in the early years setting cannot be underestimated and, in my personal view, more should be done to foster creativity in young children. Although the Early Years Foundation curriculum highlights that "children's creativity must be extended by the provision of support for their curiosity, exploration and playâ€¦and (children) must be provided with opportunities to explore and share their thoughts, creativity, ideas and feelings" (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2009), recent research, as highlighted in this essay has shown that the forging lifelong, "lifewide", creativity in children is a more intrinsic, more involved, more holistic process than simply providing children the opportunity to learn through play.