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Decoding Children's Creativity

Today we’re talking about the 4 P’s of Creativity and how to easily nurture our children’s creativity. Mel Rhodes, an American educational scientist, was one of the first that tried to define creativity scientifically. He ended up discovering the 4 P’s of Creativity and took creativity out of the realm of the ethereal and in-born qualities. This pioneering concept shows us that creativity, children’s included, is a phenomenon with distinct structure and dynamic and, therefore a skill we can teach and develop - probably in a much easier way than we imagine.

Creativity is this big, abstract idea, like love, imagination or happiness, that words fall short of describing, but we all know what it is deep down.

Back in the ’60s, Mel Rhodes, an American educational scientist, was one of the first to define creativity scientifically; his research changed the way we talk about the topic to this day. His first endeavour to scientifically define creativity wonderfully failed: he ended up with 40 definitions for creativity and 16 for imagination. However, after looking at all those findings closely, he found that they were not isolated but overlapped with each other.

A clear distinction of four dimensions, relatable to any kind of creative expression, begins to emerge. They’re the pioneering concept of the 4 P’s of Creativity and took creativity out of the realm of something that is ethereal, in-born and fuzzy, to a phenomenon with distinct structure and dynamic, and therefore a skill that can be taught and developed. Mel Rhodes found that everything that we consider creative falls into one or more of these categories:

• Person

• Process

• Product

• Press - which we can also translate into different Spaces or Environments, in the educational context.

He also found that each category carries a few consistent qualities. For instance, he found that:

• Creative personalities would present the same characteristics, such as risk-taking, curiosity, openness to new things, not being afraid of mistakes, and ability to stomach uncertainty, volatility, complexity and ambiguity.

• Creative Process could either be structured or unstructured, sequential/linear or squiggly/chaotic.

• Creative Product is something which is considered new/ innovative and meaningful.

• Creative Press or which we can also translate into Environment; in our case, it is playful, encouraging, supportive and allows different points of view.

I love this definition of creativity because it not only helps us to deal with this broad topic better, on a personal or professional level but also helps us understand where to focus when thinking about children’s creativity.

Children’s creativity can also be described in these categories. However, due to their incredible potential for growth and learning, the main focus, the main “product” of exploring creativity with children, is to nurture their creative personality.

And how can we do that? We build and nurture a creative personality by creating environments and processes where children can explore and create and make creative products that are meaningful to them. It doesn’t need to be complex. The environment needs to be playful, encouraging, and supportive, and varying between structured and unstructured activities can do the trick. Free, more chaotic processes can be exploring with paint, mud, or just going to play in the park. More structured processes can be cooking, learning an instrument or gardening.

So creativity for children is not about reaching a certain level of product quality by adults' standards but about nurturing and supporting the development of creative personalities. While creating and exploring, children are learning various skills, and the product should never be the focus but a consequence. Our primary “product” is cultivating creative personalities, which means openness to new experiences, curiosity and risk-taking.

The best way to support children’s creative development is to nurture their creative personality, through a playful and relaxed environment, offering them creative processes to engage in, and encouraging them to create something that is meaningful to them.


Hi! I'm Quel Bellastella

I’m an art educator, a theatre-maker and a mum of two very wild boys.

I dream of a world where everyone of us is encouraged to be curious and create

- from day one.  

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