“Creativity is what happens when the analytical mind pauses. How do you teach a child that? Perhaps by stimulating his senses with an idea or object, and accepting what comes without judgment.“
As someone who has made use of mind maps and other techniques to “teach” creative writing in enrichment centres, I have often doubted the process of “imparting” this skill to young children who may not all lean towards storytelling or story writing.
Creativity is what happens when the analytical mind pauses. How do you teach a child that? Perhaps by stimulating his senses with an idea or an object, and accepting what comes without judgment.
Once that’s on the table, asking a few questions and listening well could help the child shape what has emerged out of him. The pressure of meeting expectations, the burden of competing with others, or the fear of the clock on the wall blocks the beauty that lies in calm, still patterns of the mind.
Creativity thus happens by itself. Teachers can only aid its functioning by giving the child a relaxed environment, mentally rich data, and conversations that help the child decide pathways through which he could steer his story.
Singapore-based author Nilanjana Sengupta, who is also a teacher, tells us about her teaching methodologies:
“I think it was Bernard Shaw who said imagination is the beginning of innovation and in continuation, if a child needs to write creatively, all you really need to do is inspire imagination and the rest automatically follows.
As part of my creative writing classes, I use a whole lot of tools which help children visualise different worlds — basically storytelling in different forms as well as visual and graphic art. What I also do is give them prompts. It’s amazing how fast a child is able to guage the tone and mood of a story from just a line or a word web.”
Sengupta, whose latest book — The Votive Pen on the poet laureate of Singapore — was published by Penguin Random House, has been a Creative Writing trainer with the Singapore Book Council for several years.
Leena Olappamanna, who has taught in Kerala State as well as Central Board (CBSE) schools for 12 years, tells us that though creativity and writing both are innate traits, it may be easier to guide a reader, or a child that loves to read and has grown up with books.
“A child who has the drive to write — through reading and re-reading books — can be guided easily by teachers who know how to mold expression through words,”she says.
Olappamanna focuses on vocabulary more by highlighting words and getting her children to frame sentences with them. She tells us about a young student who she remembers as being extremely word-thirsty — eager to use new words — and who is now an exceptional writer.
“Even children who listen to stories may feel that they want to write one. Thus the ability and desire to express creatively can be sculpted and honed to higher levels by skilled teachers.”
Tara Suresh, a parent from Benguluru, believes in the innate ability of children to express themselves more than anything else.
“Even if creative writing is taught as a subject, ultimately it is one’s inherent ability that matters,”she says. “Being able to express through words is an art that can’t be taught.”
But Shipra Kapoor from Singapore thinks it is a valuable skill and can be imparted. “It will surely help most kids, but not all.”
There will always be debates and discussions around the importance of nurturing creativity in children, and whether or not it can be taught as a regular subject. Ultimately, it is upto parents, teachers and children to decide what works individually for each or collectively for all.
Susheela lives and works in Singapore. She has taught Creative Writing to primary school children for several years, and attempted online teaching amidst Covid chaos.