I saw an Easter bunny on my way to work this morning – all white ears and sparkly skirt, skipping along in the spring sunshine.
There she was humming to herself, swinging her basket of eggs to and fro, completely oblivious to me and everything else going on around her. Meanwhile, her older brother in school uniform, and mum laden with scooters and schools bags, trundled along behind.
Once I’d given the Easter Bunny a socially distant wave and carried on my way, I spent the rest of the walk thinking about the hours I’d spent diving into the dressing up box when I was little, and wondering why it is we grow out of that kind of playfulness?
Being willing to play is key to creativity. In order to make something new, you need two of the ingredients found in playfulness: total absorption in what you’re doing, and the courage to make mistakes.
This morning’s Easter bunny was whirling along the pavement in her own world, completely able to unconsciously negotiate all the things the real world was throwing at her (tree roots, pavement edges, a cyclist whizzing by, me!) whilst being fully absorbed in an imaginative reality of her own.
She was also totally untroubled by feelings of self-consciousness, or of getting her bunnying wrong. It would be laughable for me to stop and tell her that bunnies hop rather than twirl; within her Easter bunny world, there was no concept of what was the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to travel, where she was heading, or if the journey would have any sort of logical conclusion. The Easter bunny cared not a jot for any ‘rules’ – she was just having a lovely time, and in the process was easily doing things that most adults find incredibly difficult. Plus, in doing so, she brought a bit of magic to my morning.
As we grow up, we get more and more concerned about what the rules are, and we worry about making mistakes. The great Sir Ken Robinson talked about this in his books, as well as his brilliant TED Talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity? You might have come across his ideas already, and if not, do follow the link at the end of this blog and take a look. His TED Talk was delivered in 2006 and has had more than 70 million views. The ideas in it not only still ring true, but need repeating – perhaps more than ever – because it feels like in some ways, our education system has gone backwards since then.
In talking about how young children aren’t afraid of making mistakes, Robinson explains that ‘if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you won’t come up with anything original’ – having the courage to fail sits at the heart of creativity.
He goes on to say that all around the world, our national education systems tell us that ‘mistakes are the worst things you can make.’ Using Picasso’s idea that all children are born artist, to illustrate his point, he carries on: ‘we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it – or rather, we get educated out of it.’
Robinson’s talk concludes with the idea that as we are educating children for a future we can’t possibly predict, perhaps that should cause us to ask what education is actually for? He suggests that the current system only teaches children to get through the education system – it doesn’t prepare them for that unknown future, or even encourage them to do the things they love.
At the moment there’s a lot of talk of children having missed months of education and needing to catch up. Covid has shown the differences in our society in stark relief, meaning that some children have been able to ‘keep up’ and some haven’t – whether that’s due to access, resources or differing learning needs, varies hugely. As we move on from (or learn to live with) Covid, if we simply continue with the same education system, perhaps those gaps will only widen? But is what we want children to ‘keep up’ with really fit for purpose?
Of course there’s great value in teaching maths, sciences, geography and languages – I believe all subjects should have a place in a broad curriculum; but maybe thinking about how those subjects are taught, and spending time across all ages encouraging imagination, play, and having the courage to make mistakes, is really the only way to prepare for that unknown future?
With things in flux, now would be a great time to rethink what we teach, how we teach it, and what our education system is aiming to do – although it might take a more creative mind than Gavin Williamson to give that a whirl.
Back in 2006, Ken Robinson was suggesting that ‘creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.’ I agree – that is why Bumblebee exists! – but 15 years later, our national curriculum suggests otherwise. So until there’s education reform, perhaps we need to look for moments of play away from the class room? Next time there’s a chance to dive into the dressing up box and dance your way down the pavement, why not throw caution to the wind and have a go?
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Here is Ken Robinson’s Ted Talk Do Schools Kill Creativity?