Unlocking Children's Creativity through Movement and Music
By Rae Pica

Imagine the following scenario:

The children are seated in a circle with the teacher, who puts on a recording of a song from a well-known children's album. The children have been taught the lyrics, which they sing in unison, and at certain points are instructed to wiggle their fingers in the air. The children happily comply, the song ends, and the teacher begins again with another favorite song.


Now picture the following:

"Show me how big you can be," encourages the teacher, voice and face alive with enthusiasm. Eight children scramble to respond. When they're ready, three are standing with feet apart and arms out to their sides. One is in the same position but lying face down on the floor. Two children are lying face up. And two are sitting with arms out to sides and legs straddled. "Look at all the different possibilities!" the teacher exclaims. "Nathan, Anthony, and Jamal are big standing up; Mariah is lying on her tummy; and Kara and Michael are!"

When we think of movement and music in early childhood, it is perhaps the image of dancing and singing children that first comes to mind. And, because dancing and singing are associated with art forms, we naturally assume that any activities involving movement and music will, of course, promote creativity. But the truth is, movement and music activities that ask the children to merely imitate the teacher or parent will do little to foster creativity.

Both of the scenarios previously described have a place in children's lives and education. Children need to learn to follow directions, to physically replicate what the eyes see, and to take part in activities promoting a sense of belonging. But creativity is not a natural outcome of such activities- just as creativity is not the domain of artists alone. Indeed, we need creativity in business, industry, science, education, and life itself. (Every time we whip up a glorious meal from a refrigerator full of leftovers, we're employing creativity!)

What Is Creativity?

So what is creativity? As Tegano, Moran, and Sawyers (1991) so aptly put it,"How can one define a term that is used to describe both Albert Einstein and Jim Henson?" Both are challenging questions to answer. However, it s not unreasonable to say that creativity involves three important components: problem solving, self-expression, and imagination (the ability to see beyond what already exists)- all of which overlap and interrelate.

When children can imagine, they can envision solutions to problems. They can imagine what it's like to be someone or something else, which helps develop empathy. They can find answers to the question, "What if?" And they can plan full and satisfying futures. For children, creativity is also important because it means there s no one right answer, which provides them opportunities to succeed. This, in turn, fosters feelings of mastery and enhances self-concept.

Keys to Unlocking Creativity

  • Remember that creativity is a developmental process; two-year-olds do not express creativity in the same ways five-year-olds do.

  • Value process over product. The exploration is more important than the response.

  • Allow children to make mistakes. Einstein once said that a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.

  • Believe all children are creative. Your expectations make a difference!

Using Problem Solving in Movement and Music Activities
In the second scenario described at the beginning of this article, the children are involved in divergent problem solving (many possible responses to a single challenge); they're imagining the possibilities, and they are being validated for expressing their individuality. To employ problem solving- and unlock creativity- teachers and parents must think more along the lines of facilitating than teaching. Instead of showing, you simply present a challenge or question to which there are many possible responses. Examples include: "Show me how tall you can be"; "Find three ways to move across the balance beam in a forward direction"; "Find two different ways to make a sound with the tambourine." Following the children's responses, you can issue additional challenges to continue with and vary the exploration (extending the activity), or you can issue follow-up questions and challenges intended to improve or correct what you've seen (refining responses).

With the former, you want to provide the encouragement children need to continue producing divergent responses. Therefore, your encouragement should consist of neutral feedback (e.g., "I see you're moving across the beam on your tummy;" or "Striking and shaking are two different ways to make sound with a tambourine"). "Show me you can find another way is an appropriate follow-up, as it prompts children to think beyond their initial response.

Although you must be careful to accept all responses, there will come a time when you wish to help the children improve or refine their solutions. If, for example, you've challenged the children to make themselves as small as possible and some children respond by lying flat on the floor, you shouldn't observe aloud that this response is incorrect; it's simply another way of looking at things (which is essential to creativity!). You might, instead, issue the further question, "Is there a way you can be small in a rounded or curled shape?" Although you've helped the children improve their responses, individuality has not been stifled.

Such instructional methods are called indirect styles and are typically considered child-centered, as opposed to teacher- or task-centered. Although they do take longer than the direct (demonstration-and-imitation) approach, many educators feel their benefits far outweigh the time factor. With problem solving, the children are not only learning skills but are learning how to learn. Critical-thinking skills are enhanced as the children make choices and decisions. And divergent problem solving is one of the critical-thinking skills necessary for creativity.

Self-responsibility is another positive result of indirect teaching styles. Students are involved in the learning process and, therefore, acquire a sense of self-direction. They are able to take ownership of their responses and, ultimately, to develop confidence in their ability to discover and solve problems. Because problem solving reduces fear of failure, it produces a sense of security that motivates the children to continue experimenting and discovering.

Each child is born with creative potential, and the ages between three and five are thought to be the critical years for the development of creativity. Early childhood professionals and parents, therefore, have a tremendous opportunity to encourage creativity. And they can take advantage of this opportunity simply by allowing children to imagine, express themselves, and solve problems in all the content areas, but most especially in movement and music!

Rae Pica has been a movement education consultant for 20 years. An adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, Rae is the author of 12 books, including Experiences in Movement, Moving & Learning Across the Curriculum, and the recently released, newly revised Moving & Learning Series.

Tegano, D.W., Moran, J.D., & Sawyers, J.K. (1991).Creativity in early childhood classrooms. Washington DC: NEA.

For Further Reading
Amabile, T.M. (1989).Growing Up Creative: Nurturing a Lifetime of Creativity. New York: Crown.

Britz, J., & Richard, N. (1992).Problem Solving in the Early Childhood Classroom. Washington DC: NEA.

Mayesky, M. (1998).Creative Activities for Young Children, 6th edition. Albany: Delmar.

Weisberg, R.W. (1993).Creativity: Beyond the Myth of Genius. New York: W.H. Freeman & Co.