Op-Ed: If You Want Creative Children, You Must Do This One Thing

Isaac Newton, considered by many the most intelligent person that ever lived, stated in a letter to Robert Hooke, when explaining how he came up with so many brilliant ideas, that “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants,” which meant he could not have come up with his work without being exposed to the work of the many scientists that came before him.

Of course, Newton was using a famous quote from Bernard of Chartres who had originally wrote it in the 12th century. Newton stood on shoulders even while writing letters.

How many times in our lives have we heard of some athlete, musician, or artist, the most creative people in our society, say that they were influenced creatively by someone else that came before them?

The Beatles were influenced by Elvis. John Lennon said “Nothing really affected me until I heard Elvis. If there hadn’t been Elvis, there would not have been the Beatles.” Elvis by gospel music and black artists like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

Elvis even said “A lot of people seem to think I started this business. But rock ‘n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.” Fats Domino was influenced among others by Count Basie. And on and on it goes.

You like Rock and Roll? Then you need to thank Blind Lemon Jefferson who recorded “That Black Snake Moan,” in 1926. (Go ahead, I will wait while you check it out.) There would be no Andy Warhol without Marcel Duchamp ,who was influenced by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres.

There would be no Stephen Spielberg without Walt Disney influencer cartoonist Winsor McCay. Almost every creative person you can think of stands on shoulders of other creative people.

The point of all of this “shoulder talk” is that creative people are influenced not by sitting in meetings and brainstorming solutions, Googling answers, or waiting for some kind of magical lightening to strike, but by experiencing the work of other creative people which can influence them. There are very few truly singular creative ideas that have no genesis somewhere else.

Creativity gives birth to creativity.

When we read biographies of creative people, many, if not most, had creative experiences, mostly informally, in childhood. Elvis was a child when he discovered gospel singing in a neighborhood black church. That early exposure changed the course of music history that is still being felt today.

The Macintosh Computer would not have been born if Steve Jobs had not, on a whim, taken a calligraphy class at his local Community College.

Many parents probably think that children are exposed to “everything already” because they have access to the internet. However, knowing about something, knowing it exists, is a far cry from experiencing it. Seeing a Youtube video of the the ocean is nothing compared to running into it and feeling the squishy sand under your feet or seeing a dead jellyfish washed up on the beach.

Seeing a play live is far superior to seeing it on video, same with music concerts.

Gerd Gigerenizer wrote in “Where do Ideas Come From?” that “discovery comes from discovery.” Studies have shown that children need to experience the experience in order for creativity to be planted into the futile soil of their minds.

Sadly, many parents think they do not have the money, or do not know where to take children to experience experiences. Happily however, experience can be found almost everywhere, many for next to no cost. (I absolutely hate it when someone says that “there is nothing to do for kids in El Paso.” Yes there are plenty of opportunities, but you gotta go out and find the experience, they aren’t going to come to your house.)

For instance, the El Paso Museum of Art is open every Sunday for free to anyone in El Paso. Free. You just got to get there. Art museums are great places to stir creative minds.

Actually, almost any museum or zoo is a great place to stimulate creativity. You just have to know about it. We have an enormous exploration space in the middle of our city called the Franklin Mountains that are ripe with ideas for students interested in geology, physics, biology, ecology and more.

Surely any parent can find the giant mountain in the middle of the city to take their kids to go explore. For free. El Paso has its own planetarium, The Roddenberry, which has free programs open to the public.

Getting parents to take their children to an “experience” requires some help on the part of the experience makers as well. We live in a city where many parents are Spanish-only speakers.

A quick perusal of the three (Art, History, Archaeology) major city-run museum’s websites show them to be English only, with no way to translate to Spanish. El Paso is not doing much of a favor to those parents by limiting the language. The Franklin Mountain State Park on the other hand, has a twin: A Spanish version.

The experiences also must advertise their experiences in all neighborhoods. A single billboard for the a Symphony concert or a Broadway play at the Plaza on I-10 near Sunland Park mall will probably not be seen by many south side or lower valley residents. Experience creators must also expand who they target their message to.

A zip code should not determine exposure to El Paso’s creative experiences. Children in all neighborhoods, along with their parents, need to know about the opportunities. We can’t get caught in the Catch 22 of “We Dont Advertise there because no one comes/ No one comes because there is no advertising there.”

If we want creative kids we must put them up on the shoulders of giants so that they can see farther. It is our job as adults to lift them up.


Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.