Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity

Book Review

Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity, by Dr. Teresa M. Amabile

Published and distributed by: Creative EducationFoundation,
1050 Union Rd., Buffalo, NY 14224.
Phone: (716) 675-3181
Price: $12.95
ISBN: 0-930222-921

A few months ago public television broadcast a series of shows titled "The Creative Spirit," examining the nature of human creativity. While generally well done, the shows did not explore the subject in great depth or detail. But the shows did succeed in piquing my interest in the subject. So I trotted off to the public library to unearth some books on creativity.

A computerized search of the library's holdings turned up a recently published book titled, "The Creative Spirit," - - - obviously the "companion book" to the public television series. Before seeing the book, I surmised it might suffer from the chronic and notorious "public- television-series-companion-book-syndrome." Such books, customarily suffer from chronic intellectual anemia. These books are sumptuously illustrated with gorgeous, spacious typography. Visual feasts, they invariably leave you hungry for more content.

My suspicions were confirmed when I laid eyes on the book "The Creative Spirit." Browsing through the book, I saw the occasional interesting idea standing lonely and undeveloped on the page. Yet the book included some references and pointers that I felt could lead to further inquiry. One reference that caught my eye was to a 1989 book by Dr. Teresa Amabile, Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Life of Creativity.

The Basic Premiss of the Book

The basic premiss of the book is that creativity can be cultivated just as surely as corn can be cultivated. Plant a child in loving soil, shower with affection and praise, feed with intellectual stimulation and questions, and before the end of summer (childhood) you'll have yourself a tall-standing critter capable of yielding great yellow kernels of wisdom.

In the preface to the book, Amabile sets out five goals for the book:

"In this book you'll learn:

+ What children's creativity is, and how you can recognize it.

+ The basic components for children's creativity and stages of the creative process.

+ The importance of motivation in creativity.

+ How home and school environments can destroy children's creativity.

+ Several specific techniques that parents and teachers can use to keep children's creativity alive."

By and large, by the end of the book the author covers all of these subjects in some detail, giving anecdotal evidence as well as evidence from various psychological studies.

One of the most gripping parts of this book are the interviews with people who have produced astounding creative works in their lives. Many of these people history has already recognized. But some are yet-to-be-famous, uniquely creative children who've shown great initiative and talent. You can read about the twelve year old playwright, Jason Brown, who penned uncannily perceptive dialogue. His play about divorce, Tender Places, was produced for television, won an award from The Foundation for Dramatists Guild, and received high praise from The New York Times.

And this book tells the story of ten year old Jason Hardman, from a small town in Utah, who organized and staffed the town's only public library. (The town's library had been closed for several years prior to Jason's initiative.)

You can't help but be absorbed with Amabile's stories about the childhood experiences of Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Margaret Mead, Pablo Picasso, Pablo Casals, Isaac Asimov, and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. What aspects of these creative masters' lives helped nurture their drive to produce creative wonders? And how were their lives just as ordinary as yours or mine?

The Two Forms of Motivation: Intrinsic and Extrinsic

A sizable chunk of this book is devoted to examining what factors serve to motivate children and adults to be creative. Not surprisingly, the strongest forms of motivation is found to be intrinsic motivation --- that motivation which causes people to create for creativity's own sake.

Extrinsic motivation (such as money, candy, or toys) can actually dampen creativity. (Although where such extrinsic motivation is an unexpected "bonus," its effects on creativity are not so harmful.) Even the proverbial "gold star" sticker placed on children's first writings may not be entirely wholesome. A short written note of praise may be more meaningful and effective in the long run.

Helping Children Take "Ownership" of Their Creative Work

In the chapter titled, "Keeping Creativity Alive in School: Suggestions for Teachers," the author tells of ways to help publicly "celebrate" creative works in the classroom. A large bulletin board displaying student work is a good first step. But to maximize the beneficial effects of such "public celebrations," students in the classroom must become active participants in deciding what is placed on the bulletin board. And they should have the right and privilege to ask that their creative works be taken off the board.

Bulletin boards are not the only way of celebrating students self-expression, though:

"I know one teacher, very interested in students' writing skills, who held an 'Author's Hour' once or twice a week. Students would sign up for time slots in the Authors' Hour, during which they would have the opportunity to sit in the Author's Chair (a kind of film director's chair) and read their most recent creative writing to the class. This would be followed by a period of commentary and suggestions from the class (with at least some positive comments being required!), which the author would use in doing revisions."

Showing by Doing

A recurring theme in the book is that adults can promote creativity in children by engaging in creative behavior themselves. Students imitate surrounding adults. So if kids see creative behavior and speech at home and at school, they'll internalize the creative approach within their thinking patterns.

Simply by talking through the creative process out loud, adults can help instill a "habit of creativity." Teachers can incorporate these "creativity commentaries" into just about any lesson plan:

"If your students consistently hear you say, 'Let's find a really creative way of doing this,' and 'How else can we do this?' and 'Lets's come up with as many new ideas as possible,' they [the students] will gradually, habitually adopt a more creative thinking style themselves."

Dr. Amabile has made it her life's work to understand the processes and nature of human creativity. In this book she does an outstanding job of telling us what each of us implicitly knows, but haven't given due thought. The true value of this book is in raising creativity concerns to a new height of awareness in the rearing and education of children. By looking at children's creativity through Amabile's eyes, and following her suggestions and recommendations, chances are very good that the children we care so very much about will find creative fulfillment in their lives.

Phil Shapiro

[The reviewer takes a keen interest in creativity and creative expression, as well as all things not connected to creativity and creative expression. He can be reached via carrier pigeon or via e-mail at:]

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