Creative Thinking by Pamela MacIsaac | #TeachMeTuesday

Creative Thinking


Lately, I’ve been spending a great deal of time thinking about creativity…and how to think creatively. It’s always been a facet of my teaching: encouraging students to allow their minds to roam freely in the consideration of a question or problem, pursue intellectual risks, and embrace the inevitability of mistakes along the way. But now, as an academic coach, I’m finding myself actually teaching students, directly and in a focused way, how to think more creatively. And it’s a fascinating process – for me, and hopefully for them.

Along the way, many of us have been taught to be anxious or constricted in our thinking. We’re afraid of making an error, missing criteria, embarrassing ourselves, or simply failing, all of which gets in the way of creative thinking. It takes time and a great deal of reassurance and support to coax people, even, sometimes, very young children, out of the safe zones that we establish for ourselves.

One of the first things any parent or educator can do to begin the journey toward more creative thinking is to open up a dialogue about it. What is creativity? What does it mean to be “wrong”? What does it mean to be “right”? How do we listen to multiple perspectives without prejudice? How can we accept or even celebrate our mistakes without becoming discouraged? At what point should we stop brainstorming and just get to work to produce? Creating a conversation in which kids can talk about these questions – without being graded or judged – is a starting point.

I’ve found that picture books are a great way to introduce this kind of complex topic. They provide a way into a conversation that can otherwise seem too complicated or overwhelming. I’ve used picture books (and kids’ movies too) to begin a conversation about everything from existentialism to risk assessment to responsible citizenship. When it comes to creativity, we’re lucky to have a wealth of resources to draw from.

Here’s a short list of some of my favourites:

Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne (Picture Corgi Books, 1999)

In this book, the mundane events of an afternoon in the park are retold from four very different points of view. This book is an excellent way to open up a conversation about the way in which multiple perspectives can co-exist and that one doesn’t have to be “right” and the other “wrong”.

Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg (Workman Publishing, 2010)

The text and illustrations in this small book introduce kids to the idea that, sometimes, a mistake can turn out to be a beautiful thing. Paint drops, torn scraps of paper, holes, and even the stain from a cup of cocoa can be turned into a meaningful piece of art.

Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, (Harper Collins, 2007)

Portis’ cleverly designed book reminds us of our childhood ability to repurpose ordinary objects as toys and props for imaginative play. It’s really about our kids’ need to explore their imaginations without being corrected or redirected back to “reality” or productivity by the adults around them.

Emily’s Art by Peter Catalanotto (Simone & Schuster, 2001)

Emily’s Art was one of my daughter’s favourite books when she was younger. In it, a little girl decides never to paint again after a thoughtlessly cruel grown-up unfairly criticizes her artwork in a contest. This is an excellent route into talking about our response to criticism, constructive or otherwise, and how to avoid becoming discouraged when other people don’t agree with or approve of our ideas.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No: A Guide for Young Skeptics by Dan Barker (Prometheus Books, 1993)

This may seem like an odd book to put on a list of books to encourage creative thinking since we usually value intuition more highly than skepticism in the creative process. However, skepticism is also about keeping an open mind and exploring all possible avenues of explanation when solving a problem; keeping our minds free of prejudice and open to new evidence and opinions is a key element in thinking creatively.

This is just a start. There are so many other picture books about creativity, including classics such as Ish by Peter Reynold, that can be used to open the door to this discussion.

Pam MacIsaac is a writer, teacher, enthusiastic amateur cook, mom, and lifelong pet owner. Her academic coaching practice, Think Academic Enrichment and Support (, offers literacy tutoring, enrichment classes, PA Day and March Break Creativity Camps, and other services for kids in midtown Toronto. She lives in the Arlington Village/Oakwood & Vaughan neighbourhood, and loves her local parks!








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