Creativity, Adult Theory vs. Kid Practice

By Jason Phillips

There is a lot of talk about creativity in education circles these days. Sir Ken Robinson thinks “Schools Kill Creativity,” business commentators assert the necessity of being creative, and we worry that technology may be “sapping children’s creativity.”

Montessori nurtures creativity by following the child’s interests and giving children the freedom to work with, and on, what interests them, to move about the classroom, to  choose who they work with, to work collaboratively, and to engage in social interaction both while they work and as a part of their work.

An example of children’s innate creativity and how a Montessori environment nurtures it comes from our Upper Elementary classroom. Four boys, across the full three-year spectrum (ages 9 – 12), created a game that involves developing their own civilizations that interact with each other, that engage in trade and warfare, in the development of technology, and that deal with issues of governance and religion. They create their own evolving set of rules, which requires negotiation and compromise. What materials and technology did they need to create and play their game? They each needed a sketchpad, a pencil, an eraser, and their imaginations.

UpperBoys worlds3

Rather than me trying to explain it, here are the boys themselves, who sat down with me to explain their creation (names have been changed):

“We usually play these game things where we just say what we were going to do on our sketch pads, and the person would give us options on what we could build and stuff. I just started playing one of my own games, of a village, and then Kevin started doing it and then Jeff, and then Tim started doing it.”

“It was basically you build your city and…”

“You can mine and that kind of stuff, and build your houses…”

“And try to make more people come [to your village]”

“It’s basically just trying to make an interesting city”

“We start as a settlement, then village, then town, then city, and then civilization.”

“Then you can do stuff that’s awesome.”

“And each place has a different specialty. Mine has the most advanced technology, Jeff has the best mining.”

“I had the best animals and…”

“His was just the best awesomeness. Kevin’s was the best.”

UpperBoys worlds2

How do you grow your populations?

“You build houses and stuff and then people come over.”

“Each of us made a population bar and then the more houses you have and the more people that live in your city the population bar fills up.”

So, how do you decide how each other gets a certain amount of population?

“Sometimes travelers come and settle down, sometimes other villages are destroyed…”

“You can basically make it up, but it has to be kind of realistic.”

“We make it so that these raiders come and destroy a bunch of our village, and we have to fight back…”

“We have to build barracks and…”

“I built these giant crossbow towers…”

“It’s basically build your city, defend your city, get people to live in your city, get money, mine stuff.”

“I mined up copper and started using electricity, and I built giant flying warships, which were awesome!”

UpperBoys worlds4

You mentioned something about technology, how does that work?

“You have to find something to attract lightning to get electricity.”

“You have to build a really high tower and put a copper needle on top of it and then it just starts sucking electricity out of the sky.”

“And then you get electricity.”

“And different dimensions can have different technology levels. In Tim’s dimension there are nukes.”

“And then there’s some wizards…”

“There’s wizards and they won’t stay in your place unless you build a temple for them.”

“And they can help you enchant stuff, make force fields around it…”

“Kevin had a really awesome force field, but then he got bored of it and just destroyed it.”

“I remember there was a village in my place and it got raided and a wizard ditched me and went to live with Kevin. I’m still a bit mad about that.”

So do you all just sit together and make up the rules? What happens if, say, Tim makes up something outrageous and you guys don’t agree that he could do that?

“Well, he has his own private dimension and he can do whatever he wants in it.”

“He was kinda breaking the rules ‘cuz he was like, ‘Oh, I have this, I have this, I have this…'”

“I didn’t know ‘cuz I had just started, and then they told me so I just stopped.”

“Then we just gave you your own dimension.”

“It wasn’t really realistic what he was doing.”

“So then we started, that, depending on what dimension you lived in you could have different technology levels.”

“There are also dragons that you can get to live with you but you have to give them a lot of treasure.”

“Yeah, I found a bunch of dragon eggs…”

“Yeah, you had seven dragons!”

“Everybody has their own portals to give each other stuff if they want”

There’s portals between your different dimensions?

“We can make flags of truce…”

“Well, you need wizards to make portals.”

“Yah. We can make peace with each other, but if you’re not at peace we can go try and invade each other if you want to.”

“We can trade materials and stuff, trade coal for silver or something.”

“If you have serfs you can just give people free stuff, if you want to.”

“Yeah, like, I have the best warriors, for example, I can give him some of my warriors for something that he has that’s good.”

“My place, we had no coal so I made a deal with Jeff: he gives me coal or I go and destroy his place.”

“No, you gave me silk.”

“Oh yah. No offence, but those were actually spider eggs.”

“I’ll give him crossbows and weapons and he’ll give me lots of coal.”

“Nobody really trusted Jeff at first, when he first started, so we gave him, like, a thousand bows and crossbows, but no arrows.”

“So I made ones out of stone, which are better than normal ones.”

Are you still playing?

“Yah. He never wants it to end so he just makes his population bar keep going down and then up and then down and then up.”

“Once we get to civilization level we get to name our place. I named my first place the Sacred Valley. I know Jeff named his something.”

“Mine was named Dragon City.”

At this point they fetched their sketchpads to show me their creations.

“These are the houses and this is electricity going to the tower, and the dragons, and a lot of houses, and this is the population bar.”

“I made my population bar huge, because every house gives you a little bit [of  population]. Well, if you have a small one [population bar], one house basically gives you nothing but if you have a lot of houses it gives you a lot, but if you have a really big one like this, one house gives you a centimetre of population.”

Upper Boy's World 1

“See, they mine and they find stuff, and you can make stuff.”

“And you can make underground stuff too.”

“I tried to make an underground city once except it was too close to the Earth’s core and it accidentally got flooded with lava and everybody died.”

“And then there’s different stuff like, there’s a blacksmith that makes weapons,  and there’s barracks, there’s a farm, and there’s electrical poles.”

“Basically just a city. Everything a city has. Well, a small city.”

“And lots of times they get raided and you erase some of your houses and you can rebuild them over time.”

“Also, we could go raid other towns, but…nah, we’re not gonna do that.”

“I made a truce with the raiders…”

“Oh yeah, you made the raiders in [to the city]”

“This is my first one and then I got tired of it so I made another one.”

“If you finish your population then you can make another one. I also made another one, but I’m not finished.”

“This one’s in the arctic. This an arctic, mountainish landscape.”

So how does gameplay work? When you sit down to do this, how does it work? What do you do?

“You can choose what you want to do. If you want to mine, you can make your mines a bit longer, you can make houses and get more people.”

“This one, it’s basically in space, my dimension, so I built a huge tree to give us oxygen.”

“Once you finish a civilization you can move and make a new one, except it could be in the air, it could be floating mountains. It could be underwater or floating islands.”

“It could be on clouds too, actually.”

“Which is awesome!”

“We just kind of invented it as something to pass the time, kind of. It’s fun. Something we can do together.”

“It’s just fun.”

“And we like it.”

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