By Susan Daniels, Ph.D., author of Visual Learning and Teaching: An Essential Guide for Educators K–8
This post was originally published February 14, 2019, and was updated in June 2021.
Speaking at a conference recently, I gave a talk on the importance of engaging in everyday creativity. I incorporated E. Paul Torrance’s “Manifesto for Children” in the talk. Torrance was the man who—for much of the later half of the 20th century—was known as the Father of Creativity. First a professor in Minnesota, he later developed a center for the study of creativity at the university in Athens, Georgia. Torrance worked directly with gifted and creative youth, and he was particularly interested in understanding and supporting creative development in children.
The Torrance Manifesto is as follows:
Manifesto for Children
- Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with great intensity.
- Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths.
- Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and to walk away from the games they impose on you.
- Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.
- Don’t waste energy trying to be well rounded.
- Do what you love and can do well.
- Learn the skill of interdependence.
Torrance’s manifesto could be appropriate for all ages, but I approach it as it applies to children—who are naturally creative until about fourth grade (research consistently documents a fourth-grade slump in creativity)—and to the parents and teachers who strive to help children develop and expand their natural creativity. So, let’s look at the seven statements of the manifesto in closer detail.
1. Don’t be afraid to fall in love with something and pursue it with great intensity.
Children need opportunities to explore—as my friend Sue Winebrenner says, “to browse”— a variety of topics and activities of their choosing and to work in the modes that they love. Young children tend to be in love with the world—or at least aspects of it that appeal to their interests and passion. Allowing young children to find, pursue, and sustain their passion/s will serve them for life.
2. Know, understand, take pride in, practice, develop, exploit, and enjoy your greatest strengths.
Young children are ever in the process of learning about themselves, what they are good at, and what they enjoy. And they need to hear more about what they are good at than what they struggle with. Ask, “What do you like best about your picture/project/poem/invention?” and “What would you like to do next?” Encourage their self-reflection and self-understanding and encourage them to find joy in what they do!
3. Learn to free yourself from the expectations of others and to walk away from the games they impose on you.
Another concept I’ve been considering is that of “personal creativity.” When I was planning my talk I came upon a number of photos of entire prom outfits—dresses and suits—that were made from duct tape. Each was detailed, unique, and beautiful. One young man I taught had his room set up as a Rube Goldberg device that he constantly tinkered with to achieve different goals. He also frequently came to school dressed as Beethoven or Darwin or Dahli. Fortunately, he wasn’t teased. We had an open environment that allowed for personal creative expression.
4. Find a great teacher or mentor who will help you.
You do not need to be a creative wizard yourself to nurture the creativity of your children. One of the foremost qualities of creative individuals is that they have “creative awareness.” Creative people tend to look for and seek out the creativity that surrounds them. Parents and teachers can nurture creativity by helping children to become aware of creativity in the environment and by modeling everyday creative activities themselves. Nurturing adults allow children to pursue passion projects and help children identify their needs and available resources. Adults can also serve as creative catalysts by finding others with specific talents and interests to mentor their children.
5. Don’t waste energy trying to be well rounded.
The most significant example of this that occurs to me is the experience of high school children who are striving to get into the best colleges—working hard to be well rounded by joining every club and sport they can accommodate within their schedules. Not only is this an exhausting pursuit, it doesn’t serve them. It is better to have a clear passion and the ability to articulate the love of a topic, field, or talent than to be spread thin and lacking in personal distinction. The college application process at a number of top universities is in the process of changing to reflect this shift in direction. They are no longer looking for several AP classes and as many extracurricular pursuits as evidence of academic promise, but instead the application process highlights special interests and an evidence of caring and community involvement.
6. Do what you love and can do well.
Doing what we love fulfills a deep need for human connection and creativity. It gives us energy and enthusiasm and contributes to positive development throughout the lifespan. Now, in terms of nurturing creativity in our children, this may require some adaptations in teaching and parenting. For example, if a child loves to take things apart, including your toaster, hairdryer, and other small household objects, it would be worthwhile to set up a “lab area” for this type of exploration. This might be outfitted with a small table, a space to hold the parts and the process, an assortment of kid-friendly tools, and small appliances purchased at a thrift shop to take apart, explore, and perhaps even to put back together.
7. Learn the skill of interdependence.
Creativity is often viewed as a solitary pursuit (think of artists like Da’Vinci or O’Keefe), but creativity does not occur in a vacuum. And in terms of real-word applications, creative invention and problem solving involves collaboration. Think of the crew of the Apollo 13 (similarly the scenario in the highly acclaimed fictional movie The Martian), project teams at any of our large tech companies that are most known for their innovation, and project teams for school enrichment programs such as Odyssey of the Mind and Destination Imagination. The interplay of individual insight and group innovation is a powerful collaboration. Often, we need the contributions of others to move our own thinking forward. It is now common for adults to collaborate in professional teams and with colleagues from around the world, many of whom they will never meet face-to-face. Children can readily learn this skill while engaging in group brainstorming, project planning, and piggy-backing on each other’s ideas.
Paul Torrance was a true visionary. He wrote this manifesto in 1983, and it continues to be as relevant, and perhaps increasingly more so, now as it was then. Nurturing creativity in our youth will benefit their growth and development, the quality of their lives, and the prospects for a better future for all.
Dr. Susan Daniels is a professor, an author, a consultant, and an educational director of a psychoeducational center that specializes in the needs of gifted, creative, and twice-exceptional children. She has been a professional development specialist for over 20 years, regularly providing workshops and training on creativity and visual learning and teaching. Susan is an avid doodler who enjoys working visually in her journals, and she is dedicated to supporting teachers’ development of visual literacy and enhanced understanding of visual learning and teaching strategies. She lives in Berkeley, California.
Susan is the author of Visual Learning and Teaching: An Essential Guide for Educators K–8.
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