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Creativity in Europe in the Early Years: exploring the policy and research literatures. Presentation based on Addendum 2.2. to the deliverable D2.2 Conceptual Framework Coordinator Ellinogermaniki Agogi , Greece: Dr. Fani Stylianidou

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creativity in europe in the early years exploring the policy and research literatures

Creativity in Europe in the Early Years: exploring the policy and research literatures

Presentation based on Addendum 2.2. to the deliverable D2.2 Conceptual Framework

CoordinatorEllinogermanikiAgogi, Greece: Dr. Fani Stylianidou

Lead partners for the Addendum 2.2 Review of Creativity in Education

Open University, UK: Prof. Teresa Cremin; Prof. Anna Craft ;Dr Jim Clack

Also based on D3.2 Report on Mapping and Comparing Recorded Practices

Lead partners for the deliverable

Institute of Education, University of London, UK: Dr. Esme Glauert, Dr. Andrew Manches

creativity in europe
Creativity in Europe
  • Argument that Europe needs to enhance its capacity for creativity and innovation (EC, 2008a, 2008b)
  • Creativity perceived as an ‘infinite source of innovation ‘ by the EC (EC, 2008c)
  • European Year of Creativity and Innovation 2009
  • Creativity and innovation foregrounded in the EU 2020 policy goals for Education and Training (EC, 2012)
  • Creativity recognised as a valuable asset in the classroom for both teaching and learning (e.g. Ferrari, Cachia and Punie 2009, EC)
creativity and innovation
Creativity and innovation
  • Analysis of 119 contemporary research abstracts (Kahl, da Fonseca and Witte, 2009)suggests the terms are used interchangeably by some disciplines.
  • Creativity is usually understood to be the construction of ideas or products which are new and potentially useful (Amabile, 1988).
  • Innovation is usually understood as the way in which ideas are brought to a profitable conclusion (Craft, 2005).
  • Craft (2008) asserts that though they overlap in relation to their source/impetus, they are distinctive concepts since creativity may produce results which have a variety of forms of impact, whilst the notion of innovation implies impact in an economic context.
the focus of the paper
The focus of the paper

Drawing on the narrative review of creativity in the early years undertaken as part of the CLS project’s Conceptual Framework, and the two phase analysis of creativity in policy documentation, the paper seeks to address the following questions:

  • In what ways is creativity conceptualised in the policy documents of the nine countries involved?

(B) What does the research literature reveal about creativity in practice in Early Years settings, both with regard to teaching creatively and teaching for creativity?

(C) What frameworks and methodologies are employed to research creativity in Early Years settings?


The paper, which focuses on creativity, draws on two approaches

  • Athematic review of the international literature available on creativity in the early years, this included research literature and policy documents from each of the nine partner countries.
  • An in-depth analysis from each country which was synthesised in order to provide a picture of creativity in science and mathematics education in the early years across Europe.

Thematic literature review

There were five stages during the process

  • Establishment of search criteria and formulation of rubric templates
  • Identification of literature for review by experts based on existing knowledge
  • Hand-searching of key journals by experts
  • Systematic searching of the literature via electronic journals and databases
  • Synthesis of themes from the rubrics and writing of the review

Thematic research practice literature review

Research rubrics provided information on six key features of the review:

i) Author, publication date and journal reference;

ii) Country of origin;

iii) Sample size;

iv) Research question;

v) Methodological approach;

vi) Research methods and;

vii) Key findings.


Criteria for selection of research practice /policy literature

Research Practice

  • Articles published post-1990
  • Empirical and conceptual articles published in peer-reviewed journals, later expanded to include empirical research published in books
  • Empirical or conceptual articles focused on creativity in the context of educational research


  • Documents published post 2000
  • Documents applicable to the relevant age group (ages 3 to 8)
  • Statutory or guidance literature (as opposed to, say, lesson planning material)
  • Documents published by government, departments of education, curriculum authorities and/or associated agencies (as opposed to independent publishers)

Additional policy analysis: National policy reviews

Policy questionnaire included analysis of:

  • rationale and vision of the curriculum,
  • aims and objectives,
  • curriculum content,
  • learning activities,
  • teacher role/location,
  • classroom materials and resources, classroom groupings,
  • time for teaching and learning
  • assessment.

Comprehensive survey of a wide range of aspects involving both rating statements and providing documentary evidence to support these claims, such as direct quotes from documents or references.

The questionnaire was constructed on the basis of previous project work, notably the Conceptual Framework and the emergent List of Factors which together provided the key themes and areas of interest to be explored.


A. How is early years creativity framed in the policy of partner countries?

The thematic review

  • Conceptualising creativity
  • Instrumental creativity whereby creativity as seen as a means of increasing outcomes or providing future skills for industry
  • Creativity as self-actualisation whereby creativity is seen as an integral part of child-development

(Gibson, 2005)


A. How is early years creativity framed in the policy of partner countries?

  • The thematic review ii) Content analysis

(Heilmann and Korte ,2010


Additional policy analysis:

Creativity in the

National policy reviews

Rationale, vision and aims of curricula

  • Affirmed that the curricula could be framed with one of the two conceptualisations of creativity – self-actualisation or instrumental
  • Explicit reference in rationale : often as a cross-curricular theme or skill to be taught across the various subjects or areas of learning. Greece, Malta and Northern Ireland.
  • Implicit reference in rationale: often in the form of particular skills identified as associated with creativity, such as curiosity or exploration, or as ‘creative dispositions’ – the habits that are most likely to foster creativity in the classroom, such as having or developing a sense of initiative, imagination or problem posing/solving.
  • The aims : specific references to creativity were limited, with the emphasis more on references to features of characteristics of teaching and learning that are associated with creativity  rather than with creativity itself. These included questioning, investigating and collaboration.

Creativity in the

National policy reviews

Teaching and learning in curricula

Brief mentions of creativity found in only three of the countries who discussed creativity as

“develop[ing] pupils’ curiosity, creativity and critical thought” (France),

“develop[ing] creative potential to problems” (Germany),

“stimulat[ing] creative potential” (Romania).

In the guidance and discussion of the teachers’ role in children’s learning in curricula, there was limited explicit reference to creativity.

Curriculum questionnaire found that ‘play’, ‘investigation’, ‘problem solving’, ‘exploration’ and ‘curiosity’ seem to be prevalent characteristics of creativity.


Creativity in the

National policy reviews

Creativity and assessment

  • Little or no mention of creativity in relation to assessment.
  • Surprising considering recent efforts to conceptualise the assessment of creativity and the emphasis that creativity seems to have as an overarching aim/objective of education in some countries.
  • For countries that interpret creativity as a means of self-actualisation, creativity is part of the development of the whole child, rather than isolated and identifiable.
  • In an instrumental vision of creativity, the notion of creativity is as a means to an end, rather than a goal in and of itself.
  • In both approaches we can see how the specific assessment of creativity may be seen as an unnecessary activity in the process of teaching and learning.

What does the early years practice research literature reveal about creativity?

Exploratory contexts: time and space for play and immersion

Studies suggest open ended exploratory contexts foster creativity;

nearly all stress significant role of play

(Burnard et al., 2006; Bonawitz et al., 2011; Craft et al., 2012; Cremin et al., 2006; Einarsdottir, 2003; Fawcett and Hay, 2004; Jeffrey, 2004; Poddiakov, 2011)

Playful situations appear to prompt openness which teachers build upon, providing space and time to explore environment / materials, encouraging problem solving/ problem finding activities and actual and mental play (Cremin, et al, 2006; Joubert, 2001).

However, a study of pre-schoolers in a science museum revealed ‘two edged sword of pedagogy’ - explicit instruction constrained exploratory play reducing potential for creativity (Bonawitz et al. 2011).


What does the early years practice research literature reveal about creativity?

Profiling learner agency and collaboration

Development of agency and ownership of learning is key to creativity in learning (Craft et al, 2012; Cremin et al., 2006; Cremin, Barnes and Scoffham, 2009; Jeffrey, 2005; Woods and Jeffrey, 1996).

Whilst some research shows how teachers enable such agency and ownership through skilful pedagogy (ibid) other research reveals tensions between structure and agency andimpact of teachers’ pedagogic practice and provision, which framesand may constrain creativity in learning (Craft et al., 2007).

Significance of dialogue and collaboration as well as the benefits of unstructured group discussion in nurturing creativity in the very young (Craft et al, 2012; Chappell and Young, 2012).

The House of Little Scientists study shows children’s dialogues and collaborative engagement often display creativity, fostering their task-management and enriching their scientific understanding. Through letting the children experiment collaboratively with one another relatively free from constraints creativity appeared to be nurtured (Kramer and Rabe-Kleberg, 2011).


What does the early years practice research literature reveal about creativity?

Making learning relevant

Relevance of teaching to learners, personally, socially and emotionally is seen to be one of the vital aspects of creative teaching (Woods,1990;Woods and Jeffrey,1996) by:

Developing work contextualized by real life applications and involving partners beyond school(Cockettand Cochrane, 2006; Fawcett and Hay, 2004).

Incorporating children’s prior-knowledge (Kramer and Rabe-Kleberg, 2011), connecting to their cultural, social and linguistic assets, offering emotional space/encouragement (Craft, McConnon, Matthews, 2012; Woods, 2001).

Recognising power of narrative and dramatic story making by engaging children imaginatively thus fostering their creativity (e.g. Bruner, 1986; Cremin et al., 2006; Egan, 1988; Paley, 2001; Sawyer, 2004a, 2004b).

Meaningfully relating to children’s lives, fostering connection making and metaphorical thinking through metaphor, anecdote, visualisations and analogies (Heath and Wolf, 2004; Grainger et al., 2004; Woods, 1995).


What does the early years practice research literature reveal about creativity?

Posing questions and offering affirmation

The creative teacher frequently employs open ended questions,

finds problems and promotes speculation by modelling their own curiosity

(Blatchford et al, 2003; Chappell et al., 2008; Cremin et al., 2009, Craft et al., 2012).

Butopen ended questioning may be problematic for children with less experience of it (Harris, Williams, 2007) .

In arguing question-posing and responding is the driving feature of possibility thinking(Chappell et al, 2008)highlight children’s leading questions, often possibility broad in nature. Such questions framed by teachers questions can provide opportunities for play (Lloyd and Howe, 2003).

Positive affirmation of early years creativity through documentation of learning, reflection and feedback is noted by many (Malaguzzi, 1993; Rinaldi, 2006) and may take diverse forms: drawing (Barnes, 2004; Heath and Wolf, 2005),writing (Armstrong, 2006), questioning assumptions, redefining problems and looking for what else might be possible(Richhart, 2002; Craft, 2000).


What does the early years practice research literature reveal about creativity?

Teacher as collaborator: standing back and intervention

The pedagogic practice of closely observing children’s interests, needs and direction of learning to build upon these nurtures creativity is critical to creativity

(Cremin et al., 2006; Fawcett and Hay, 2004; Rinaldi, 2006; Tobin, Hayashi and Zhang, 2011).

When the teacher works mainly in the background, children collaboratively create their own science learning processes (Kramer and Rabe-Kleberg, 2011)

In the possibility thinking studies, teachers prioritised stopping and observing, and listening and noticing the learner’s engagement; discursively positioning themselves as agents of possibilities; ‘what if’ agents’ (Cremin et al., 2006).

Other studies highlight that at times the teacher is more fully and playfully involved as a fellow collaborator and provocateur(Bancroft et al., 2008; Craft et al. ,2012)

Yet there is scant research examining a more dialogical pedagogical model in the early years.


How has early years creativity been investigated?

Wide range of fields including social psychology (Mumford, 2003), neuropsychology, (e.g. Fink et al 2007; Howard-Jones, 2002, 2005), and education (e.g. Bancroft et al, 2008).

  • Ed research spans positivism and interpretivism: quantitative + qualitative methodologies
  • Scant early years creativity research undertaken in critical paradigm.
  • Some mixed methods, particularly by those interested in teachers’ attitudes to creativity (Harkness and Portwood, 2007; Smith, 1996; Westby and Dawson, 1995).
  • More positivist research is undertaken in the United States and Far East yet there is influential interpretivist work (e.g. Sawyer,2004; Paley, 2001).
  • European research has a much larger focus on interpretative approaches and methodologies (Craft et al, 2006; Einsdotttir, 2008).

How has early years creativity been investigated?


  • Focus and context of much research in positivist and interpretive paradigms with neuroscientists using quantitative methods of pre- and post-assessments, and suggesting sustained periods of regular play in early years settings increase creative thinking in young children (Howard-Jones et al, 2002, Garaigordobiland Berrueco, 2011)
  • From an interpretive perspective, many researchers also argue play is the context for early years creativity (Craft et al., 2012, Creminet al., 2006;Burnard et al2006; Chappell et al., 2008; Canning, 2010; Storliand Hagen,2010)  

Children’s visual representations

  • Quantitative approaches have sought to find ways in which children’s drawings can be ‘tested’ or assessed e.g. ‘draw a man’ test developed in 1940s and used today (e.g. Uszynska, 1998) and ‘gestalt holistic assessment’ (Brewer, 1989;Nelson et al., 1998). Such studies categorise children’s drawings on age-related or creativity scales.
  • Qualitative approaches include investigating children’s drawing as ‘intellectual play’ with underlying imaginative and cognitive processes (Wood and Hall, 2011). Stevenson and Duncum(1998) also looked at this ‘intellectual play’ through children’s use of collage by identifying the symbolism and skills involved in collage-making.


  • Children’s ‘text making’ in the early years, such as writing reports, instructions or narratives, has also been used as a means of observing and developing creativity in children.
  • Longitudinal and ethnographic studies of children’s writing (eg Armstrong, 2008; Chapman, 1995; Pahl , 2007; Wollman-Bonilla,2000).

How has early years

creativity been


Two distinct approaches

Creativity as focus of the research

eg TTCT and possibility thinking work, where the aim is to identify the features of creative activity

Identifiers of creativity as indicator or measurement tool

for other aspects of learning or child development

egPahl’s 2007 text-making studies, Canning’s 2010 work on outdoor play, where children’s creative outcomes/activity

are used as indicators of progress


Discussion 1

diversity and ‘little c’ creativity

There is considerable diversity in the ways in which countries ‘describe’, include and allude to creativity in their early years policy documentation, with most literally not mentioning the term, though several implicitly afford reference to features that are frequently associated it, such as curiosity, exploration and problem solving.

Policy conceptualisations relate to ‘instrumentalist’ and self-actualisation approaches to creativity (Gibson, 2005) and to educational values.

Strong emphasis and connection made in policy documents between creativity and play suggests in many of the countries, creativity in early childhood is seen as located at the ‘everyday’ end of the spectrum.

It appears thus to be conceived, albeit often implicitly, as ‘little c’ or everyday creativity (Beghetto and Plucker, 2006; Craft, 2003; Runco, 2003) not ‘big c’ or paradigm-changing creativity (e.g. Gardner, 1993; Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Simonton, 1994) or innovation.

discussion 2 the significance of play and particular skills
Discussion 2the significance of play and particular skills
  • In relation to the practice research literature, the review indicates core features of creative teaching and learning, including: provision of exploratory contexts which offer time and space for play and immersion, profiling of learner agency, collaboration and relevance in learning as well as question posing on the part of children and their teachers.
  • Both practice research and policy literatures note a significant role for play as a context for creativity in early learning.
  • Regardless of degree of explicit attention to creativity in policy, investigations and problem solving contexts are noted alongside associated skills and capabilities such as curiosity, questioning and collaboration.

Concluding points

gaps identified

In sum, whilst nurturing creativity in early years settings in Europe is researched and documented at the level of practice and is profiled in EU documents, it is not strongly evident in national policy documents which seek to frame and guide the profession.

There is a substantial gap between European wide endorsement of creativity and innovation (EC, 2008a, 2008, b, 2008c, 2012), its recognition in statute and/or curricula guidance and implementation of such recommendations at national level.

The extent to which this influences professional practice is not known, though the Creative Little Scientists teacher survey, and the empirical work in classrooms commencing in 2013 will help to afford more nuanced insights in this regard.


Presentation based on Addendum 2.2. to the deliverable D2.2 Conceptual Framework

CoordinatorEllinogermanikiAgogi, Greece: Dr. Fani Stylianidou

Lead partners for the Addendum 2.2 Review of Creativity in Education

Open University, UK: Prof. Teresa Cremin; Prof. Anna Craft; Dr Jim Clack

Also based on D3.2 Report on Mapping and Comparing Recorded Practices

Lead partners for the deliverable

Institute of Education, University of London, UK: Dr. Esme Glauert, Dr. Andrew Manches

This publication/presentation reflects the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.



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