Encouraging creativity in kids

By Peter Ehrlich

Oh sure, you and I might say we would love if our child turned out to be the next Paul McCartney or Alanis Morissette. But do we really mean it? If we did, we wouldn’t be saying things like this to our children, “Honey, I’m glad you love playing music, but you should focus on something that will get you a job.”

Sir Ken Robinson is an internationally recognized leader in the development of creativity, innovation and human resources, and was invited by the Outward Bound Canada to talk about how today’s “educational system is killing creativity.”

As a parent, I wanted to hear Sir Ken talk about the importance of the arts in education because I feel guilty, likely in the same way you do. As I watch my child’s journey through high school, I’ll admit to thinking, “Please be a university professor, doctor, dentist, lawyer or successful businessman.”

What’s so wrong about that is that my son is an amazing drummer. His drumming teacher told me that he has the potential to “go all the way.” Why can’t I easily wrap my head around the notion that it’s my duty to encourage his musical talent?

If ever there was a time in human history to encourage and develop your child’s artistic talent, it’s now. According to Robinson “UNESCO released a report that says more young people will be graduating with degrees in the next thirty years than ever before in history.”

“What does a BA mean anymore?” asks Robinson. “Not much. The MA has replaced the BA and the PhD will soon replace the MA.” He calls it “academic inflation,” and the result is that more and more people with degrees are “returning home to play video games.”

Robinson makes it clear that “Today’s educational system is based on academic ability — specific abilities that were required to meet the needs of the 19th century industrial revolution. Our children are having it drummed into their heads that if they don’t choose subjects that are most useful for work, they’re wasting their time.

“How many times did we hear, ‘There’s no point in trying to be a musician, painter or actor, doing what you like to do because you’ll never get a job?’”

The challenge, according to Robinson, is that “artistic creativity is buried deep.” It takes real commitment by both parents and educators to uncover it. So we parents really need to listen closely to the creative heartbeat of our children.

And if you’re thinking that maybe your child doesn’t have artistic talent, Robinson kills that excuse with this quote. “Picasso once said this: ‘All children are born artists, the problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.’”

Robinson believes this passionately; that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it or rather that we get educated out of it.”

As an example Robinson tells this wonderful story about Julian Lynn. She’s a choreographer who did Cats and Phantom of the Opera.

She was hopeless at school. As a matter of fact, the school wrote her parents and said, ‘We think Julian has a learning disorder.’ (Now they’d say she had ADHD.) She went to see a specialist with her mother. And she sat on her hands for twenty minutes while this man talked to her mother about all the problems she was having at school.

The doctor then went and sat next to Julian and said “wait here we’ll be back.” As they went out of the room, he turned on the radio and he said to her mother, “Just stand and watch her.”

The minute they left the room, she was on her feet moving to the music. The doctor turned to her mother and said, “You know, Mrs. Lynn, Julian isn’t sick. She’s a dancer. Take her to a dance school.”

Her mother did just that and Julian reveled in the joy she discovered hanging out with people who were just like her — people who could only be happy if they moved.

She eventually danced for the Royal Ballet School and became a soloist. She founded her own dance company. She has given pleasure to millions and is a multi-millionaire. Somebody else might have put her on medication and told her to calm down.

And listening to Sir Ken, I now unequivocally encourage my son, the drummer, to march to his own beat.

To learn more, go to www.sirkenrobinson.com or www.outwardbound.ca.

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