Raising Creative Children in a Type-A World

I am going to begin this blog by making a confession…when it comes many aspects of my life – my teaching life especially – I am totally Type A. I need order. I crave predictability. I function best when I am the one in control. Things out of order make me anxious. I plan my lessons down to the minute and work extremely hard to maximize the learning that happens in the short time I see my students each week. I love being the center of attention in my classroom.

That Type A part of me is in complete conflict with my desire to help students reach their creative potential in my classroom. You see, creativity is messy. It is loud. It doesn’t fit well in a 45-minute block. It definitely doesn’t lend itself to the traditional “I give you an assignment and you figure out how to give me back exactly what I want to get a good grade” mode of operation. It can be extremely time consuming and requires a teacher who can essentially manage chaos. It is often very difficult to assess. And it can look really bad if an administrator happens to walk in at a funky moment. For those reasons and more, in many classrooms creative assignments don’t happen enough, if they do at all.

When you really think about it, very often the person who makes the majority of the creative decisions is the adult in the room, even in arts classes that are supposed to be inherently creative. Teachers will design amazing art projects for their students to essentially copy. Others will demonstrate exactly how a line should be said or sung or played to have the most aesthetic effect. Some will create the most adorable movements to accompany songs for performances. At home, parents will control just where that sequin should be glued so that it ends up looking exactly like the picture on the box. Children will spend hours following pages and pages of directions to put their new Lego set together just the way that the (adult) toy designer has laid it out.

I clearly remember when my oldest daughter was three we were working together on a sticker book where each sticker had a specific place to be. I had to have it just right, all perfectly lined up and in the correct place, while she would have been happy matching up the right side of an orange with the left side of a cow. In that instance, and in many others I’m sure, my need to have it my way (the right way, of course) got in the way of her being able to manipulate her world in new and exciting ways. My need to fit the mold got in the way of her ability to blow up the mold and create something that was entirely hers and no one else’s.

I am proud to say I have come a long way in the last five years. I have come to realize that the only way my children, both my students and my own, are going to be creative thinkers is for me to get out of their way and to let them get dirty, get loud, get frustrated and to find their own solutions, even if their solution looks completely different than mine might. I have to create opportunities where their voices are heard and honored and where their creative choices can take center stage. That is my responsibility as a parent and as a music educator. Even if it takes me biting my tongue until it bleeds, the pride on their faces is worth it every time.

I challenge you to do the same. Where can you step back and become a supportive mentor instead of a fearless leader? How can you provide real opportunities for the children in your life to blow you away with what they can create? What amazing thoughts and ideas are lying just underneath the surface of the children in your life, just waiting to be welcomed? From one control freak to another: I promise you, it’s a mess worth making.