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All Flowers Are Not Red: Cultivating Creativity

Shira Yehudit Djlilmand

If you are creatively challenged like I am, dreaming up artistic projects to do with your kids is, well, a nightmare. I am happy to whisk off my children into the hills for an impromptu hike, but the thought of a living room swathed in sparkly stickers, glue, and paint makes my stomach sink. But, as educational research reveals, those mess-making craft projects might actually be the key to making my kids more successful.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Studies have shown that artistic activities are not just for fun, but are an essential part of our development. In 1983, Harvard professor Howard Gardner introduced the now widely accepted concept of multiple intelligences. His theory is that there are eight forms of intelligence: language, logic, musical, spatial, bodily, naturalist, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. “A good educational system ought to nourish and nurture the range of intelligences, which include several featured in the arts,” Gardner said. “Otherwise we will be neglecting important forms of human potential and stunting the cognitive development of youngsters.”

Further research has proved Gardner right — so much so that, today, experts now consider arts education to be as essential as reading, writing, and arithmetic. They also believe that spending time on creative arts helps kids better learn those three fundamental subjects. In 1997, the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies published a report showing that students who had a high involvement in the arts, whether in or out of school, consistently outscored those with low involvement — in all subjects.

Learning how to be an innovative thinker also leads to greater problem-solving skills, something that can prove invaluable when your grown child has to come up with a solution for a stressful life situation.

The ability to think out of the box can be particularly useful in Torah learning, explains Dr. Shmuel Meyberg, an educational psychologist who works with children within the Maayan HaChinuch HaTorani (Shas) network of Israeli educational institutions. “To be a great posek, you need to have a creative mind to figure out which halachah fits which situation. You have to adapt what you learn to whatever situation arises.” In other forms of Torah learning as well, if you want to come up with chiddushim, you need not only a broad knowledge of the material, but the imagination and ability to understand the subject matter in new ways.

What’s more, studies show that mastering a creative skill gives people increased self-confidence, thus equipping them with the ability to thrive in almost every avenue in life. This is true for all kids, but can be especially helpful for those who find schoolwork difficult; having the chance to shine in a different environment can dramatically improve their sense of self-worth.

“There are girls who struggle academically, but thrive creatively,” says Robin Garbose, principal of Los Angeles’s Kol Neshama, one of the few performing arts schools catering exclusively to frum girls. “I once had a girl who was dyslexic and couldn’t read, but she was brilliant in other ways.” There was also the student, explains Robin, who was so shy that she hid her face behind her hair. “I saw something in her, and succeeded in bringing her out of her shell. Two years later, she was singing solo on stage.”


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