How To Encourage Creativity In Your Students – Part I

Is there any facility a human being can have more to be cherished than creativity? Is there any quality in our student that we do a worse job as a nation of encouraging?

Creativity is the key to the future, not merely for an individual, but for civilization and our survival. It is the creative person who sees the world in a new way, puts the pieces together into a shape no other imagined, and provides advance, innovation, and pleasure. Intelligence is a good and valuable thing. Ethics and integrity are to be cultivated in our young, most assuredly. But as a culture, we have vastly underrated and underserved the creative human potential.

I will assume that you’re a homeschooler. That means you are not bound by the severe and crippling limitations of schooling, and educational mandates established by governments and school boards who seem to have little or no understanding of children…or of education. You are free. You may create an education in accordance to your child’s best interests. Believe me when I tell you that no matter what it is that your child wishes to do in life, creativity well-developed will serve him or her constantly and well.

The trick is how. What are the best ways and means one ought to apply to help develop creativity in a student?

Let me start by suggesting strongly that the first and principle tool to be employed is NOT critique. This miserable failure of an educational approach has been pushed on teachers and the rest of us for over 100 years. It is a catastrophe, a miserable failure that has crippled the creative output of uncounted millions, of generations.

“Evaluating” the creative work of a young artist is almost certainly going to lead to the student’s hatred of art. What eight year-old, who has just freshly inked what he believes is a great story, wants as a reaction “your spelling is wrong. That sentence is not English. What were you trying to say, here? Is this supposed to be amusing?” And on and on.

Look, I realize that often, the teacher who approaches creativity in this manner honestly believes that he is assisting the student toward becoming a more “proficient” artist. At least, I hope such teachers have altruistic intentions – because the result of critique on developing creative effort is destructive. The creativity of the young is precious to them, just as your creative acts as an adult are articles of pride to you. But our children and students look up to us for guidance and support. All it takes is a few destructive comments or looks to end for a lifetime a child’s interest in expressing himself as an artist, or in any sort of creative manner. In just that way, a human being is deprived of one of his most important qualities, and civilization is deprived of possible creation or invention that might have improved innumerable lives.

Imagine if the young da Vinci had been told by teachers or parents that his work was awful, or in need of constant correction – and yet the rightness of his creations was ignored. Would we have had da Vinci? Or a Shakespeare, under similar circumstances?

Think about your own youth. What were you encouraged to do? Which of your activities were supported and admired? Which were critiqued heavily? What do you like to do NOW?

Is there such a thing as “constructive critique”? Of course there is. But not for an eight year-old. Sorry, no such thing exists. Constructive criticism is laced with admiration, anyway. I’ve been teaching actors, writers, singers, musicians and directors for nearly 40 years, now. The people I teach are generally adults, and professionals. Nonetheless, I start each set of notes on their work with admiration and a litany of what they did right. The admiration is genuine. There is no artistic or creative effort that does not contain admirable qualities. Even “poor” and even “repulsive” creative works have something in them that can be appreciated. It is a teacher’s first job to locate the admirable aspects of a student’s creative work and to admire it openly and generously. And this goes double when teaching children!

Want to build up the artist in your student? Admire his art rather than critique it. Don’t suggest that the spelling can be improved, or the syntax, in a written work. Just admire the fact that a written work now exists where none did a few moments ago, and that it was born out of your student’s intelligence, interest and passion. If you do this every time you’re confronted with a creative effort, be it a dance, a song, a drawing, a poem…I promise you that you will be helping to make creative expression on the part of your student a desirable event.

Teachers in school situations are not free to avoid the critique of their students. They are obligated to “test”, to “grade”, and to generally accept and use the critical approach to education, even where creativity is involved. Testing and grading have absolutely no place in the creative development of a child, and as a homeschooler, you may eschew them completely.

And that is my first piece of advice. Skip the critique and replace it with genuine admiration for those qualities in the student’s work you find admirable. How will this improve your student’s work? First, this approach will make it safe for the student to create. hence, they will enjoy it more, and do more creating. As they create more, they will be exposed to their own work, and to the works of others. I have never seen a student who enjoyed creating something not improve when left alone to do so. A student excited about creating will do so with a will, attack a creative project, invest their free time and energy. Such enthusiasm leads to a lot of work done. And the more work done, the more the student will correct himself as he raises the bar on what he’s trying to do. The more the student is exposed to great work in his chosen art form, the more he will himself understand how high that bar should be set. Your critique will not provide him this perspective. It will only hamper the student with a sense of inadequacy, and the limits of your own vision and artistic biases.

Advise # 1- Leave the student alone except to support his effort and admire it. More to come.


As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Steps (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

7 comments for “How To Encourage Creativity In Your Students – Part I

  1. October 26, 2011 at 9:10 am

    Well said! This is similar to the style I teach young children visual arts naturally. While a person is creating or child he/she is going through a creative process. To disrupt that free flow of creativity with logistics on spelling or what is proper can stop that creativity dead in it’s tracks. My own daughter 12 years whom is home educated writes wonderful fiction stories and I allow her to write, express and imagine. Later she knows when it’s all done then we will go back and proof read and have some nurturing critiquing if she whats to publicly share these stores. The same goes for my kid’s art projects. Great advice! I’m new to your blog and glad there is someone out there writing to our special audience. Spramani

  2. October 26, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    Thanks, Spramani,

    Yes, I think we’re exactly on the same page on this! Wonderful! Your students are blessed.

  3. December 30, 2011 at 9:06 pm

    love the idea about not evaluating them!!!

  4. January 29, 2013 at 5:56 pm

    creativity definitely starts in the preschool years by keeping kids away from copycat/cookie cutter crafts and allowing them to create at their own developmental level

    • January 29, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      Hi, Faigie,

      That is one way to go about it, and there are others. Imitation is often very much a part of how many children start their creative explorations. Yes, each child should be allowed to (encouraged to) work at “their own level,” and that will be different for each child. But so will the method used that works best for each child. Some kids need “cookie-cutter” crafts, or they need to imitate songs they hear, or dances they see, to get their imaginations in gear. Others will not. We’re all different, and the key with a child is to allow as much experimentation as possible not only with art itself, with creativity, but also with the methods used to approach art. The same thing applies to adults who want to “be creative.” Thanks for writing.

  5. April 8, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    One of the reasons I granted our kids’ request to be homeschooled is because our then 9 year-old daughter said she was afraid that she was losing her abilities and her creativity. The school’s answer to her boredom was Ritalin, which we refused.

    After just a few weeks of homeschooling, our daughter’s love of learning returned. We let our kids spend plenty of time on their passion areas and allowed them to come up with different ways to do things. No more “Death by Worksheet”, as our daughter called it.

    I come from a long line of artists and musicians. You have to allow the creative process to flow naturally. With creativity, there is no “stay inside the lines”. I wrote a 2-part post about the results of a standardized education that you might enjoy:

    The Death of Creativity: The By-Product of a Standardized Education (Part 1):

    The Death of Creativity: The By-Product of a Standardized Education (Part 2):

    🙂 Dori

    • April 8, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Hi Dori, not surprised by your tale. Schools kill the art in young artists. Good work, getting your daughter out of there.

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