Kids are More Creative Than Ever – Some Adults, Less!

By Shlomo Maital   


    There is empirical evidence that our kids are more creative now than kids were, 25 years ago.  (Alas, I have a strong feeling, we adults are LESS creative, especially those of us working in large bureaucratic organizations, which is nearly all of us). 

Here is the evidence.  Case Western Reserve researchers Sandra Russ and her student Jessica Dillon compared 14 studies of child creativity, done in Russ’s lab between 1985 and 2008.  Each study used the same scale to evaluate children’s cognition and emotional expression during five minutes of unstructured play. **   Here is the method:

Affect in Play Scale:  (APS):  Each child was met with individually and given two neutral-looking puppets and three blocks with which to play however he or she would like. The task is appropriate for children ages 6–10, in grades 1 to 4. The play was videotaped and scored according to criteria in a scoring manual. The APS is relatively unstructured so that there is room for the child to structure the play and present affect themes that are habitual to him or her. The instructions for the task are: I am here to learn about how children play. I have here 2 puppets and would like you to play with them any way you like for 5 minutes. For example, you can have the puppets do something together. I also have some blocksthat you can use. Be sure to have the puppets talk out loud. The video camera will be on so that I can remember what you say and do. I will tell you when to stop. Go ahead. *

   According to the APA Monitor:  “The researchers found that over the 23-year stretch, children’s comfort and imagination scores improved, their organization and emotional expression numbers stayed the same, and their use of negative imagery decreased.  According to Russ, the increase in imagination underscores children’s resilience.  “They are finding other ways to develop their imaginative abilities”.  Perhaps, she suggests, kids are being deprived of time to play freely, with more of their time being structured, so when they are allowed to let their imaginations run wild, they “take more advantage of it”. 

    I think there are two main lessons here. First, let our kids have far more unstructured play time, to exercise their imaginations. Second, let us adults ALSO have more unstructured play time, idle time, time to let our imaginations roam free.  If kids are creative, and adults aren’t, perhaps we adults should be more like our kids.  Simple, no?   


 *   Scoring:  The APS measures pretend play ability with five scores: 1. Organization rates the child’s play (1–5) on the quality and complexity of the plot, considering cause and effect and plot integration. 2. Imagination rates the child’s play (1–5) on its fantasy elements, block transformations, and number of novel ideas, characters, or events. 3. Comfort is a rating (1–5) of the child’s comfort, involvement in the play and enjoyment of the play. 4. Frequency of Affect is a tally count of the number of units of verbal and nonverbal emotion expressed during the play. A unit is defined as one expression by an individual puppet that can be scored. For example, every time one puppet said, ‘‘I like you’’ or ‘‘I hate this’’ a unit is coded. The total number of units expressed during the 5-minute period is the frequency of affect score. Frequency of positive affect units and negative affect units are also obtained. 5. Variety of Affect is a tally count of the number of affect categories that are expressed during the play, drawing from 11 categories: Anger= Aggression, Anxiety=Fear, Happiness=Pleasure, Frustration=Dislike=Disappointment, Sadness= Hurt, Oral, Oral Aggression, Anal, Competition, Sexual, and Nurturance=Affection. These categories can be combined into positive affect expressions and negative affect expressions.

**Changes in Children’s Pretend Play Over Two Decades. Sandra W. Russ and Jessica A. Dillon. Case Western Reserve University.  CREATIVITY RESEARCH JOURNAL, 23(4), 330–338, 2011