Rippowam Cisqua School: Nurturing Creativity in Young Learners
If you've ever watched a baby squish their food all over their high chair, you already know that young children are naturally creative. But did you know that creativity is the most in-demand skill among prospective employers in 2019? That's because creative thinkers are problem solvers. Creative thinkers approach challenges with innovation and communicate their ideas effectively to others. These are critical skills that can help anyone, at any age, be successful wherever they go. In the years between mushy peas and that first job interview, that precious creativity can get stifled with worksheets and standardized exams, well-intentioned methods that don't bring much joy into the learning process. But innovative educators at places like Rippowam Cisqua School (an independent PreK through Grade 9 school in Westchester) recognize that nurturing the critical skill of creativity in children is the best way to raise curious lifelong learners. In fact, it’s core to their mission to create independent thinkers, confident communicators, and engaged leaders.
Nurturing creativity in young children
Luckily, fostering creativity is fun! Encourage imagination and students learn to envision the possibilities. In an academic environment in which students are encouraged to follow their curiosity, students can wonder, ask questions, and explore in creative ways. Here are some keys to fostering creativity in very young learners:
A Safe and Trusted Environment
Little ones need to feel safe so that they can begin to take risks. Whether they fail or succeed, the practice of risk-taking itself builds the confidence to persist in the face of challenges.
In an environment where teachers know their students well, they can teach more effectively. "The best way to spark engagement in children is to figure out the various ways the coursework will genuinely interest them," says Colm MacMahon, Head of School at Rippowam Cisqua School. "To do this, we get to know each child as an individual so we can determine what makes them tick, what turns them off, and where they need to be challenged."
Plenty of Play in the Classroom
When children direct their own play, their creativity is teaching them valuable skills. When they choose the most important roles in a pretend drama, that's executive functioning, and when they disagree about who should play each role, they're negotiating. Taking turns and getting along with playmates requires self-regulation.
Kids are eager to learn when it's fun, and they have the most fun when they're actively engaged instead of watching a teacher. A terrific example of a hands-on learning is planting a garden. Read how, at Rippowam Cisqua, kindergarteners took over this process.
A great school recognizes that free time is invaluable for fostering creativity and independence while nurturing the social, emotional, and coping skills that are crucial for children to mature into healthy, well-adjusted adults.
Prioritizing Creativity as Older Children Grow
As learners mature and evolve beyond self-directed imaginative play and finger painting, prioritizing creativity in learning may be less obvious to the casual observer. Here are some ways that the best educators nurture creativity for a dynamic learning experience for their children:
Encouragement to Imagine the Possibilities
When learning begins with open questions and curiosity instead of a lecture, students are free to explore topics, challenge convention, and engage in a robust dialogue with adults and peers.
Children Take Charge of Their Learning
Look for classrooms that allow students to follow their curiosity. Programs that integrate hands-on projects, off-campus excursions, arts, athletics, and wellness are designed to deepen learning, help identify their interests, and promote self-advocacy in students. Schools that focus equally on social-emotional learning are paramount to fostering creativity; only when kids are comfortable in their own skin can they truly reach their potential.
Critical Thinking is Prioritized Over Memorization
With so much information bombarding us today, it's never been more important to learn the skill of not just acquiring information, but being able to evaluate it and apply it to real-world situations. Look for a school that doesn't just ask students to memorize and regurgitate facts from a textbook. "Creativity activates the part of your child’s brain that inspires them to imagine and think differently about the information they are receiving. When you tap into what excites them, children become excited about the learning process and creative in their approach to solving complex problems without fear or hesitation," says MacMahon.
A Classroom Full of Challenges
When students are challenged regularly, they learn how to approach problems creatively to find solutions. In turn, they build confidence and resilience as they learn to take risks and test their ideas. Creativity in learning gives teachers the ability to evaluate understanding beyond basic worksheets and tests. Class participation is also measured beyond a hand-raise, but also in the student’s ability to collaborate and learn from their peers. The result is that creative students develop the ability to adapt to different learning environments beyond the classroom and build their social skills to boot.
How Rippowam Cisqua Fosters Creativity and Innovation
At Rippowam Cisqua, creativity is essential to the learning process, and the result is "RippKids" who are enthusiastic, confident learners.
Approaching Class Lessons Using the Torrance Incubation Model
Educators at Rippowam Cisqua design lessons using the Torrance Incubation Model. Following this process, lessons include three stages: heightening anticipation, deepening understanding, and extending the learning. Through this method, teachers build suspense and excitement about new topics and encourage imagination, exploration, and flexible thinking in all academic subjects. Learn more about the Torrance Incubation Model here.
Playful Challenges for Little Ones
For younger students, Rippowam Cisqua includes an Imagination Space where children face fun weekly challenges to train them how to think differently through academic play. “Each week students face a new problem, come up with an answer that accomplishes the goal, and move on. For example, we asked second-grade students to find a problem in their home and create a prototype or model to solve it. My son’s problem was taking out the garbage, so he made a model of our house and designed a catapult to hurl the garbage out of the house. With these challenges, the focus is on the experience of tackling the challenge. We turn the academic side of play into an environment of learning,” said MacMahon.
A Huge Innovation Space to Challenge Older Students
The school’s new 2,400 square foot Innovation Center introduces middle school students to concepts in design thinking, mechanical engineering, digital design, robotics, woodworking, welding, and machine fabrication. Seventh-grade students worked with Kindergarten students to build a mini-golf course and eighth-grade students studied the laws of physics when building from scratch a human-sized cardboard boat and later, designing contour maps of Mars in parallel to reading Andy Weir’s The Martian. From projects designed around the academic curriculum to community-building exercises with their younger peers, students become comfortable with exploration and experimentation that translates through their high school and college years.
Want to raise a happy, curious, engaged learner? Look for a school that prioritizes creativity in all of its activities. Parents love Rippowam Cisqua School because their children love learning.