Most kindergartens have a crafting area within a nursery room, providing scrap materials such as used boxes and cardboards. Children can use these materials to draw or create something and play with them as daily activities. While observing their activities, I often realize essential things about their creativity.
In this report, I will introduce the case of Maki, who is in a four-year-old preschool class. She has uniquely developed her creativity through a long-term process. I want to take one example and tell you how I concluded that we should consider not only physical environments (e.g., providing creative materials and activities) but also interpersonal relationships that help children recognize and accept individual differences to express their creativity.
Maki and Nanako often play together in the crafting area. Maki was born in the later months of the school academic year. This could be one of the reasons why Maki admires her peers, who are adept and can do almost anything. She tends to do the same things that they do. For example, when Maki plays with Nanako, she often imitates Nanako's actions. Suppose Nanako picks up a used box; Maki also picks up a used box. If Nanako folds origami paper, Maki will do the same. While Maki and Nanako are creating something, they show their artwork to each other, saying "Look!" or "Here!" Focusing on their relationship, I conducted an observational study on how their behavior of showing objects would change.*1
At around the end of the first term, I saw Nanako playing with Minori. Minori was making a ribbon. Nanako picked the same material and made a ribbon in the same way as Minori, and then showed the work to her. They nodded at each other and said, "They're the same!" It seemed to me that they were confirming their "sameness" with each other. Probably they felt excited to have the same thing as evidence of their friendship.
One day in December, when the second term was ending, Nanako picked up a translucent sheet from a basket full of creative materials, showed it to Maki, and said, "Let's make something!" Maki picked up the same sheet and started working on it with Nanako. Nanako taught Maki how to make it, saying, "Do this, then do that." Maki seemed to follow Nanako's instructions. There appears to be a reciprocal relationship of "teaching and being taught" between Maki and Nanako.
Nanako had told Maki, "You should make the same thing that I have made; otherwise, I will not play with you." For Nanako, whether Maki does the same thing or not is the condition to accept Maki as a playmate. Probably, Nanako unconsciously requires "sameness" from her peers.
Their teacher told me about her anxiety, saying, "It concerns me that Maki always imitates Nanako's work. So, I sometimes advise Maki to make something different or whatever she likes. However, because Maki lacks confidence, she seems to feel comfortable creating the same thing as her peer."
Even in the third term, Maki and Nanako still continually played together in the crafting area. One day in mid-March, they were folding origami paper. Suddenly, Maki acted differently, saying, "I will cut this paper." Maki was surprised by the outcome of her own action. Getting a different shape of origami, she cried out, "Wow, I had never imagined this shape!" Maki showed her work to Nanako, saying, "Look! Nana, Look!" Nanako seemed to be inspired by Maki's action. She told Maki, "Let's make fun stuff." Subsequently, they became fascinated with the new mode of creative activities.
According to their teacher, three days before that day, Maki and Nanako had a big fight for the first time. Since then, their relationship seemed to have changed. More precisely, Maki became more self-assertive, creating things as she likes, instead of just following Nanako. On the other hand, Nanako seemed to admit that her peer may have a different intention. Gradually, she stopped pushing Maki to create the same thing. Instead, she is now motivated by Maki's different ideas to create new things.
This incident suggests that they are building a relationship where they learn to accept "individual differences" and openly communicate with each other. Their creative activities reflect this new relationship. Maki's imitation experience is also indispensable in developing such a relationship. Through this new relationship, Maki gradually learned to express her ideas and improve her unique creativity.
In sum, it is important for children to build an interpersonal relationship with their peers, respecting individual differences. As a result, they can move from the imitation stage to the "appropriation" stage, where they accept others' ideas and modify these ideas to achieve their unique creativity.*2
Of course, this interpersonal relationship is not the sole factor in enhancing children's creativity. Through their experience of creating with their peers and repeatedly imitating, they may have had repeated dialogues with materials -learn how the materials react when he/she does something to it. Such knowledge might have helped them build their experience in handling materials and confidence in their own creativity. However, the role of positive interpersonal relationships may not be overlooked. Based on such relationships that accept individual differences, children can freely express their ideas and try whatever interests them. By observing children shifting from the imitation stage to the "appropriation" stage, we can see the kind of relationships they have. Lastly, support from teachers is also crucial to ensure the development of children's interpersonal relationships.
- *1: The details of this study are included in the following article: Sakiko Sagawa (2017) "How Children's Creative Processes Change Depending on Peer Relationship Development: Focusing on Four-Year-Olds Showing Objects and Their Design-and-Make Process," Research on early childhood care and education in Japan, 55(1), 31-42.
- *2: The concept of "appropriation" was first advocated by the researchers who studied the creation process of contemporary artists (Takagi, Okada, & Yokochi; 2013). They argue that "appropriation" is to create a new artwork by appropriating the outline of fact patterns within pre-existing knowledge and modifying certain features within it."
In this report, I explained the process of children's developing creativity and originality through imitation, by using the concept of "appropriation."
Kikuko Takagi, Takeshi Okada, and Sawako Yokochi (2013) "Formation of an Art Concept: How is Visual Formation from Photography Utilized by the Ain Concept Formation?" The Journal of Cognitive Science, 20 (1), 60.