A Creative Tool to Teach Empathy and Perspective


When the world is divided against itself and suffering from hurt that we can’t fully comprehend, what tools can we give children to help them see beyond the madness? Perhaps, the most powerful concepts we can teach them are empathy and perspective.

Those who can empathize with others begin to see beyond their own perspectives into spaces of multiplicity and divergence. When we begin to acknowledge the diversity of others’ experiences, suddenly, we’re no longer the center of our own universe.

As adults, we can support children in empathizing with others by teaching them how to imagine the world from an other’s perspective. While there are numerous ways to teach and model empathy, children’s literature can create authentic and powerful opportunities for exploring different perspectives.

One of our favorite children’s books that demonstrates multiple perspectives is Anthony Browne’s, Voices in the Park. As an artist, Browne explains that he is drawn to children’s literature because he “likes the idea of showing that the world looks very different from inside someone else’s head.” In Voices in the Park, Browne uses words and images to portray the complexity of experiences during a day at one city park. The book uses multiple modes (words, images, story structure) to tell the story of a trip to the park, and in doing so, it becomes a collection of voices that are woven together into a plural narrative. 

After researching the story a bit deeper, we discovered that Voices in the Park is actually the result of Browne’s revisiting of a story he wrote years ago called A Walk in the Park. Although Browne liked the original story, he always felt the illustrations looked “rushed and clumsy.” This led him to re-imagine the illustrations years after the original publication and he surprised himself when the characters evolved into depictions of his signature gorillas. He explains that while he can’t explain exactly how or why he revised the story, he believes that “it does show that quite often the best decisions I make have more to do with instinct than intellect.”

While Voices in the Park is a creative representation of multiple perspectives in and of itself, the story behind the story adds another layer of meaning. This additional layer draws our attention to the cyclical nature of empathy and perspective-taking. Neither concept is static and when we take time to revisit our understandings, we are surprised with new and different ideas. Maybe it’s time that we all revisit the stories of our past and re-imagine what they mean to us today.

10 Picture Books That Demonstrate Creative & Innovative Thinking


Picture books combine both visual and written mediums to create texts that bring stories to life for children and adults alike. When we reminisce about childhood, we’re bound to remember the experiences surrounding at least one particular picture book: the person who read it with us, the feelings it evoked, or how it piqued our imaginations.

As we seek to cultivate children’s creative lives, picture books are a simple–but powerful–way to model how they can innovate and think creatively. Here are 10 of our favorite books that demonstrate creative and innovative thinking:

1. Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

Have you seen a child build a cardboard fort? If not, you’re missing out! In this whimsical picture book, Antoinette Portis shows readers that a cardboard cube is anything but a box.

2. Round Trip by Ann Jonas

Typical early childhood reading skills include understanding how to hold a book with the correct orientation, and reading the book from front to back. In Round Trip, author-illustrator Ann Jonas, surprises readers with a story that can be read from top-to-bottom and front-to-back, but when it’s flipped upside down, the story continues through words and images that reflect into a new plot.

3. Bad Day At Riverbend by Chris Van Allsburg

What happens when a story incorporates a secret threat from outside the pages of its book? You get an amazing story with rogue crayons attacking the characters. In this often overlooked picture book, author-illustrator Chris Van Allsburg demonstrates some of his most creative thinking as he re-imagines how a reader can affect a story’s plot.

4. The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

There’s nothing more frustrating for a child than feeling like they can’t draw. But, when a teacher intervenes to show them the genius of their “dot,” a child’s despair is transformed into a creative drive that leads to a gallery of work. Who says it’s just a dot?

5. Press Here by Herve Tullet

When toddlers can unlock a smart phone and understand the power behind the tap of their finger, what’s so cool about a picture book? Author-illustrator, Herve Tullet shows children that the pages of a book can be just as responsive as a mobile app.

6. Duck Rabbit by Amy Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

There’s nothing like a good ole’ optical illusion to get your brain ticking. Don’t let the simple text and images fool you! This book gets a room full of children asking: is it a duck or a rabbit? Well, it depends on how you look at it…

7. Big Frog Can’t Fit In by Mo Willems

Who says a picture has to be stuck on a page? Not Mo Willems. In this whimsical “pop-out” book, poor Big Frog just won’t fit! Based on this hilarious story, it looks like it might be time to make a bigger book.

8. Beautiful Oops by Barney Saltzberg

Every artist understands the frustration of making a mistake–too much shadow, the wrong shade of green for that leaf, or a splatter of paint in the middle of that white cloud. Barney Saltzberg shows readers that the most frustrating mistakes can be transformed into our most creative work.

9. What Do You Do With An Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom

When you’re trying to explain how an idea comes to life, there’s nothing handier than a metaphor. In this delightful picturebook, the author and illustrator work together to create a visual metaphor that shows children how their ideas are like an egg that needs to be  protected, nurtured, and given the time to grow before it can hatch.

10. The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

Every creator and innovator knows that their process is magnificent, but painful. Things don’t always go according to plan, the ideas in our heads don’t come out the way we imagine them to be, and sometimes, our ideas just don’t work. In The Most Magnificent Thing, children can see that even though the process can be frustrating, when we step back and relax, we can see our work with a fresh eye and sometimes, we find the perfect solution!

10 Ways to get Kids to Think Creatively


When working with children, we’re often challenged to promote creative thinking. Our challenge is not to “teach” children to think creatively, but to encourage and support them as they engage in authentic creative learning experiences. Too often, adults are faced with standards, expectations, and programs that run counter to the practices of creative and innovative thinking.

Rather than outlining a scripted formula for getting kids to think creatively, we’d like to offer 10 suggestions that are specific enough to be actionable, but open enough to be catalysts into further exploration and practice.

1. Set the stage

Creativity thrives in open and inspiring environments. While these environments might look differently for individual children, creative learning environments are flexible with space and time, and reflect the shared values of inquiry and experimentation.

For more on creative learning environments, click HERE.

2. Lead with questions or problems

Creativity is sparked by questions or interesting problems. As adults, we can encourage children to think creatively when we position a topic or unit of study as a series of inquiry-based questions or problem-based scenarios that allow students to explore various solutions. 

3. Provide multiple materials

An easy way to promote creative thinking is to provide an array of materials for children to use in their work. When paper and pencil are just one of many options to express and explore ideas, children are primed with the tools they need to think and represent their thoughts in alternative ways.

4. Encourage independent AND collaborative thinking

Sometimes it’s assumed that collaborative learning is the best way to get kids to think creatively. While it is true that creativity thrives in social experiences and dialogue, it is also important to provide children with time to explore questions and problems independently as well.

5. Focus on the “HOW”

When we are faced with multiple standards and specific information that must be taught, we tend to focus on the “what” in learning. What standards did we cover? What did the children learn? What did they produce? If we want children to think creatively, we must shift our focus to address the “HOW” in their learning. Instead, we should be asking children: How did you solve this problem? How did you answer that question? How did you create this solution? 

6. Carve out time

Creativity takes time. A schedule that is compartmentalized and dominated by quantity rather than quality is not conducive for creative thinking. Children need extended periods of time to go deep in their creative thinking, therefore our schedules must demonstrate that we value this time.

7. Celebrate mistakes

Sometimes our best ideas are products of our mistakes. When children are encouraged and allowed to make mistakes, they have opportunities to learn what works and what doesn’t, and this process nudges them toward new ideas and better solutions.

For more on the importance of making mistakes in the learning process, click HERE.

8. Listen, listen, listen

Since creative thinking does thrive in collaborative environments, children must be taught how to listen to their peers. The most effective way for adults to teach active listening skills is to model these skills. When children see us listening and describing how we listen to others, they are learning how put these skills into practice.

For some simple strategies that teach children listening skills, click HERE.

9. Talk, talk, talk

Creativity flourishes in social situations where children can exchange ideas, ask questions, and explain their thought processes. As adults, we can model and encourage the types of dialogue that creative thinkers use in their work.

10. Share, share, share

When creatives share ideas, materials, experiences, and responsibilities, doors are opened into new possibilities and different ways of thinking. Children should have opportunities to engage in the creative process with their peers and to share and receive feedback on their work. This process should be reflective, offering opportunities for children to “think about their own thinking.”

For specific ways to support children as they share and reflect on their creative processes, click HERE.

3 Questions To Evaluate Creative Learning Strategies


As we increasingly recognize creativity as a valuable asset to the global economy, we will continue to see an emphasis on creative teaching and thinking strategies in schools and in the workplace. But, how do we evaluate these strategies to determine which best promote creative learning?

There are no clear cut ways to measure the value of creative learning strategies, but there are questions that we can ask in order to make judgements about their value for children.

When evaluating creative thinking or learning activities, strategies, and programs, it is useful to consider the following questions:

Does this activity, strategy, or program allow for divergent thinking?

The concept of divergent thinking was defined by psychologist J.P. Guilford and refers to the process of generating multiple outcomes, solutions, or possibilities for a given topic or problem. Creativity thrives in thought processes that allow for multiple possibilities and ideas. Can you identify opportunities for divergent thinking?

Does this activity, strategy, or program encourage children to consider different combinations of existing concepts and ideas?

Creativity is also practiced when individuals consider the possibilities of combining existing concepts and ideas in new and different ways. Artist and creativity expert, Austin Kleon,  compares creative thinking to mathematical permutations. What does the concept of combinatorial thinking (or remix) mean in today’s creative economy? In a presentation called, Networked Knowledge and Combinatorial Creativity, Maria Popova explains, “[creative] work builds on what came before. Every new idea is just a remix or a mashup of two previous ideas.” Can you identify opportunities for combining existing concepts and ideas in new and different ways?

Does this activity, strategy, or program allow for experimentation and failure?

Creativity is often judged by the end product, not the process. Perhaps this is because the creative process can be messy, difficult to capture, and littered with mistakes. But, we all understand that our mistakes can drive the creative process by showing us what doesn’t work and directing us toward better solutions. Our mishaps can also surprise us with possibilities we would have never considered. Can you identify opportunities that allow for experimentation and value the possibilities in failure? 


La Gioiosa: The University As A Joyful Space



Creativity. Innovation. These are current buzzwords in both business and education. As economies strive to compete in a global, digitalized world, the call for creative thinkers and innovative makers has become part of our collective thinking about what we want for our children. Ken Robinson, in his famous TED Talk “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” (40 million views and counting), urgently argues “that creativity now is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” In other words, creativity and innovation are now considered a necessary part of every child’s upbringing.

But what does that mean, exactly? What does it look like when we take Robinson’s call seriously, when we—grown-ups charged with supporting children in their learning and living—treat creativity with as much commitment as we do reading and writing, as well as math and science and other knowledges that we consider vital to the human experience? What kinds of spaces will we create for children, and what do we hope children will do when we invite them there?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist best known for developing the concept of “flow,” writes of Vittorino da Feltre, an educator living in 15th century Italy. As a condition of becoming a tutor for a politically influential family, Vittorino opened a school for other children of the Lombardy region. According to Csikszentmihalyi, Vittorino saw connections between creativity and enjoyment and sought to instill those qualities in the learning experiences that took place in his school, which he named La Gioiosa—The Joyful Place.

But Csikszentmihalyi doesn’t leave Vittorino’s story lodged in the history of Italy. Instead, he challenges educators to bring such thinking into 21st century places of higher education.

“But how can the joy of learning be instilled in modern universities?…First, making sure that teachers are selected in part because they model the joy of learning themselves, and are able to spark it in students; second, that the curriculum takes into account the students’ desire for joyful learning; third, that the pedagogy is focused on awakening the imagination and engagement of students; and finally that the institution rewards and facilitates the love of learning among faculty and students alike” (Csikszentmihalyi, 2006, p. xx).

The question of how to cultivate children’s creative and innovative thinking is at the heart of the MACIE program. Also at its heart is a belief in joyful learning and the stance that for adults to awaken the imagination of students, their own imaginations have to be awakened as well. That includes faculty who are immersed in the joy of learning and who strive to design spaces for adults that can lead to creativity, innovation and, yes, enjoyment. In this way, we are here to support adults who want to do the fulfilling and necessary work of helping children grow to lead joyful and creative lives.



Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2006). Foreword: Developing creativity. In N. Jackson, M. Oliver, M. Shaw, & J. Wisdom (Eds.), Developing creativity in higher education: An imaginative curriculum (pp. xiii-xx). New York, NY: Routledge.