When Practice Doesn’t Make Perfect: Studying Preschooler’s Creative Problem Solving in a Museum Setting.

Will giving children guided practice with a toy help or hinder creative play? We also explore the impact of naming creations on creativity.

Project Abstract

A large body of research has explored ways to nurture a child’s natural creativity through play. The focus of our study is to determine if convergent coaching with a novel block construction set will help or hinder subsequent divergent play with the same materials.  Furthermore, we explore the impact of having children name each creation has on divergent play.

Sixty 3 – 6 year olds played two games with a magnetic block set called “The Ball of Whacks” for 15 minutes in a science museum setting. They were instructed on how to play a convergent game (reproduce 5 specific shapes shown by the experimenter), and a divergent game (create as many different objects as possible in an 8 minute period). In addition to looking at age (3&4 vs 5&6 yr olds), two factors of the play environment are manipulated (1) order of games and (2) naming their creations or not.

Children were presented with as many blocks as they wanted and instructed to make as many different unique creations as they could in eight minutes.  The primary dependent variables were (1) the total number of objects created, and (2) the percentage of objects that were different in shape.

Results indicate that younger children made significantly more objects (p < .001), compared to older children. Children who named objects produced significantly fewer creations (p < .01).

The most intriguing results concern the percentage of unique objects created.  Younger children produced significantly fewer unique objects (p < .001).  Children who played the convergent game first created fewer unique objects  (p < .05).  The key finding is that playing the convergent game first led to a 40% reduction in creative output for younger children and only a 4% reduction for older children (p < .005).  There is compelling evidence that structuring play time with convergent play before divergent play hinders the creative processes for young children.

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