Tag Archives: creativity

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The Curiosity Cycle by Jonathan Mugan

I’ve already written previously on the EYFS Forum about how Twitter can give you some surprising links (EYFS Forum).

The one I detailed in that particular article was a book by Jonathan Mugan. Just to recap, Jonathan had tweeted to me after reading the schema and fairies post. He had done some research on schema as part of his Ph.D. on robots learning and has subsequently written a book called The Curiosity Cycle. I had a quick read of the prologue and realised how relevant this book is to children’s learning. I bought it on Kindle and can now confirm that it is a fascinating viewpoint on how and why we should encourage and nurture children’s curiosity above all else.

The book is really about how we “actively construct” (page 4) our knowledge of the world as children. What this means is that we use a complicated web of previous information, new information, reinforcement and reinterpretation to make sense of the world around us.

Part 1 of the book investigates concepts and models of our knowledge acquisition. This includes the idea of “supple thinking” which means that a child can adapt and be flexible to different circumstances they find themselves in. The example given is that by learning maths by rote, rather than thoroughly understanding the underpinning concept, is not useful. It will not allow your child to move forward in maths because they won’t have the flexibility of mind to understand, for example, that ‘x’ can represent many different numbers.

There are many great examples of discussion topics and ideas for adults and children in part 1. These are mainly aimed at school-age children, although I think some of the more curious preschoolers would understand some of the concepts. One really useful tip that I think everyone could use, is to be specific when talking to young children. So rather than saying to a child “Please can you get me that thing from over there?” It is much more instructive to say “Please can you get me the small blue cup from the top of the medium bookcase?” Apart from the vocabulary, it also encourages children to be specific when expressing themselves.

I really love the idea of making the ordinary absurd. For example, exploring the idea that plane travel is flying in the sky sat in a chair or that a tree seed can transform from something tiny you can hold in your palm into a tree, which is bigger than your house. Sometimes as adults it is easy to become jaded about these “ordinary” things that happen all around us. It is a great reminder that these are amazing things and should be shared as such with children.

The second part of the book is about children as “embodied social beings”. It investigates the idea that children are good at recognising patterns and understanding abstract ideas. Again, there are some great ideas to support this way of thinking. This includes social situations, humour and understanding abstract ideas – with mention of Piaget’s conservation of mass.

Emotional embodiment on page 86, talks about “hot” and “cold” states, for when someone is (respectively) “visceral charged” or “cool, calm, rational”. I think this is an interesting way of defining emotions for a young child and could well be used to help children to verbalise and regulate their emotional states.

In part 3 of this book we learn how computers are everywhere and are growing in their capacity, both in terms of memory storage and ability to make links – “to think”. However, computers are still a long way behind the average preschooler in being able to think flexibly and creatively. This is currently what gives humans the edge over computers. Mugan goes on to explain how we can support children to be more creative in this technological world and give them the advantage for their world of the future.

There is a particularly timely notice about privacy, considering that research has found that children as young as 5 are using Facebook, (bbc news website) and how this may affect people in the future.

Jonathan Mugan concludes with a particularly sobering thought – “increasingly rapid change is coming and this change will require engaged curiosity to understand it” (page 150). I wonder if this is truly achieved through the EYFS or 2-year-old progress checks? This is why it is essential that practitioners are motivated, curious and involved.

This really is a superb book, which has made me re-evaluate how I communicate with my children. The Kindle version on the computer allows you to click through on the websites and research links, which gives a whole new level of reading material.

I would say this is essential reading for anyone who is passionate about encouraging curiosity and stimulating individuality and creativity in their children.

It is available on Kindle at Amazon

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Cultivating creativity in babies, toddlers and young children by Tina Bruce

As practitioners we are always being reminded about taking photographic and video evidence of children during the day day because a picture can demonstrate a point really clearly. But how often do we find a book which takes this valuable advice? The first thing that you will notice about Tina Bruce’s book is the beautiful, full colour photographs throughout. These are often grouped so that the reader can see the process that is being described in the text.

The next thing is the way that the book can be read – either scanned through, picking out the information boxes or dipped into a chapter at a time or simply read end to end. With this in mind there is some repetition from chapter to chapter, which reinforces the central themes. These are:

  1. Anyone can be creative
  2. Good creativity needs incubation
  3. There are 3 kinds of creativity: everyday, specialist and world shattering

It is often noted throughout the book that creativity is hard work, the environment need to support creativity, as do the practitioners, and that creativity is not producing a creation, but is a process. For me this was the most resonant idea in the book. Too often as practitioners we talk about ‘doing a creative activity’ meaning that we will expect the children to make something, often within our own, narrow adult boundaries. Were the children in your setting allowed to make their own Christmas card using any material of choice and own design? How long was the idea allowed to incubate? Did everyone have to do a card?

Tina Bruce concentrates on the aspects of creativity:

  • emergent beginnings
  • the process of developing a creative thought or idea
  • the product which (may or may not) emerges and this could be a scientific theory, dance or poem!

Sometimes the children don’t even know what they are creating and our adult interpretation should not be forced upon them. In fact, Bruce notes that a clear idea may restrict the creative process.

The case studies bring the subject to life with examples I could easily relate to. Gradually the theory is built to a final chapter about the three kinds of creativity with powerful examples of how this is achieved in adulthood in the arts, humanities and science. The book concludes with a useful page of bullet points on how to cultivate creativity generally.

I was a little disappointed that there were no pictures of children in chapter 6 – Emergent Beginnings – which covers babies and SEN. Whilst there are excellent examples for toddlers, pre-school and older early years, there is much less about babies in general.

Nonetheless, it is a good read, and it is very useful to be able to access the book at the different levels. It is also a useful source of practical information on the process of creativity and how to encourage this within various settings. I would strongly recommend it to any practitioner who is interested in creativity.

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How Children Learn. Book 2 by Linda Pound


As the title suggests this is the follow on book from How Children Learn by Linda Pound and is laid out in the same style, with key dates in the side margins and good, clear headings. The references are many and varied, and, more importantly, easy to find!

The major difference with this book is the depth of the content. As well as an overview Linda goes into more detail about the development of each theory, how they build on each other and they differ. I found the way that phonics, in various forms, has been in and out of fashion since the middle of the nineteeth century fascinating – there is a particularly good table which compares analytic phonics with synthetic phonics in the chapter about how children learn to read and write.

In the chapter about intelligence there are some mind blowing facts:

  • The first series of tests for children, to see if they would benefit with mainstream schooling, were devised in 1905 (Simon-Binet tests). And I thought SATS were a modern demon!
  • In 1967 Joy Paul Guilford suggested there are 120 elements which make up human intelligence.
  • Scores in intelligence tests have been rising ever since they started (the Flynn Effect) – no-one is totally sure why.

Creativity is explored in the long view, from Freud to Pinker to Csikszentmihalyi, and then applied to the educational approaches. I found that this really made me think about what creativity is and why it is so important – and also why we don’t foster it more in our practitioners.

Conversely when Linda discusses progressive twentieth century theorists I felt that I had seen it somewhere before “individuality, freedom and growth”,”learning rather than teaching” and “a child’s life under his own direction is conducted all in play, whatever else we want to interst him in should be carried on in that medium”. The EYFS, maybe? No, progressive thinkers before the second world war.

The book ends on an overview of how children learn to talk including a very useful section on early years research.

Overall I would thoroughly recommend this book, especially if you have a particular interest in literacy, linguistics and intelligence or even if you have ever just thought ‘why do we do it like this?’.

Unlike book one, which I enjoyed as an interesting and informative read, I found this one really had me thinking and questioning my assumptions on phonics, creativity and intelligence. Linda deals with complex subjects and interwoven threads of theories comprehensively but clearly. It has inspired me to revisit theorists with a new outlook, particularly Gardner and Csikszentmihalyi, and has made me realise there is very little which is brand new in education!

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