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U: Unconventional ideas: What is creativity and how can it be nurtured?

Why are play researchers interested in creativity?

What is creativity?

When we talk about creativity, people often assume we mean arts, crafts, and performance. Whilst these are highly valuable creative expressions, creativity can also be expressed in science, maths, computing, history, and any other subject. It’s not always about the products that we make, but often about the ideas that we have and the process of creating them. PEDAL researcher, Dave, thinks of creativity as, “putting together existing ideas or objects into a new configuration to make something novel.” And Emily sees creativity as, “thinking outside the box: coming up with innovative solutions to problems or looking at things from a different perspective.”

Why should we nurture children’s creativity?

Creativity can help children in daily life because it is a goal-directed skill used to solve problems in unconventional ways. As seen in the famous marshmallow experiment, children can hear “Don’t touch that!” and then creatively find ways to satisfy their interests. When they give the marshmallow a voice and tell a story, or pretend they are the adult and retell the rules, the child is using creative thinking skills to regulate their behaviour (as opposed to sitting on their hands!). Children can also use creativity to cope with adverse circumstances. One of our latest Play Pieces discusses the creative ways medical professionals can use play to help children make sense of medical procedures – check it out here.

It has also been suggested that creativity could help children to be more engaged in the classroom, improve equal access to learning, and reduce harmful stereotyping in schools. This is because children who are creative often also have traits such as curiosity, enjoying intellectual challenge, and wanting to learn about others and have new experiences (this is one of the Big Five personality traits called ‘openness’). Promoting the use of creative thinking in schools is also thought to promote equality in academic achievement because it opens up a greater variety of ways to learn and demonstrate knowledge.

Why are play researchers interested in creativity?

Play is a great context for children to put their creative skills into action. We can see this when children invent imaginary worlds, construct a city from just a few blocks, or develop complex storylines in play. Children have a wonderful ability to create new purposes for objects; think about every time a child has had a telephone conversation through a banana!

Play researchers are still exploring the exact relationship between play and creativity. We often see creativity and play together, and both are linked with children’s thinking skills, problem solving, and language development. Creativity also helps children to come up with exciting ideas during play, so it’s possible that having lots of opportunities to play and to practice coming up with new ideas could help children to become more creative.

How can parents and teachers support children’s creativity?

Research suggests that a person’s surroundings can encourage or discourage creativity; it is not just something one is born with or without. We know that in the current climate, creating time and space for creativity can feel increasingly difficult.

Where possible, teachers and parents can give children the confidence to be creative by:

  • Making sure children have plenty of time and freedom to play and explore.
  • Modelling different approaches to problem solving that can be used in new situations. Seeing adults being creative can help children see how it’s done!
  • Letting kids know that if they try something and it does not work, that’s okay!
  • Giving lots of positive encouragement if they have a spontaneous burst of creativity.


An environment with these characteristics sets up opportunities for creative, exploratory behaviour because children have the tools necessary to experiment with new ideas independently, but also feel safe and supported in doing so.

We hope you are encouraged to think about creativity beyond the creative arts, and how it can be thought of as a thinking skill supporting children’s ability to self-regulate, problem solve, explore new ideas and unfamiliar situations.

Get in touch and let us know what you’ve been doing to get creative!

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