Good early childhood caregivers and teachers work hard to provide activities and teaching strategies that are developmentally appropriate for the age of the child. Part of developmentally appropriate practice is encouraging a child to think of new things. Providing open-ended activities is one way to insure that a child has an opportunity to stretch his thinking and create solutions that may not be expected or typical. Encouraging creative thinking in a child is something that will eventually affect all aspects of his life.
Children who are not typically developing need the same encouragement for creative thinking. In her book, Creative Activities for Young Children, Dr. Mary Mayesky names several ways that a teacher or caregiver can encourage creative thinking in special needs children:
1. Meet each child at his or her own level of development.
2. Tailor the environment to each child’s strengths and weaknesses to build greater competency.
3. Interact with the child in ways that help him or her to think and solve problems.
4. Make sure the child is gradually using most (or all) of his or her senses.
5. Increase challenges in manageable, easy steps so the child is successful at least 70% – 75% of the time.
6. Adjust the allotted time for learning, task completion, etc.
The list above could certainly be used with typically developing children, as well. However, when dealing with the added burden of a child’s special circumstances, it is easier to forget ways that will help the child learn creative thinking.
Creative thinking should not be exclusive to high-achieving children or a child that displays certain talents. Prior to the 1970s, creative research concentrated on tracking children that displayed a certain talent at an early age. Realizing the potential in all children, researchers of creativity since the mid-1970s have concentrated on how to bring creativity out in all children. Special needs children are not an exception to this rule. In fact, teaching creative thinking can often quicken the learning of basic skills.
Young children are naturally creative. It is up to the parent, caregiver and teacher to help each child learn to think beyond boundaries for something original and valued.