5 Techniques That Build Creative Thinking Skills

Imagination is more important than knowledge.  -Einstein

5 techniques that build creative thinking skills

Creative thinking is a skill that needs to be honed.  As humans, we all possess the capacity to be creative- to invent, design, and express through various forms. But that capacity can be muted or developed.

Children create naturally.  They are usually immune to fear of judgment or failure until their creative thoughts and expressions are hindered by something outside themselves.  They become aware that the world judges their art, places expectations on their creative expression, and demands production.

And so, as described in my previous article, methods are used that block the creative processes of the brain.  But creative thought is absolutely necessary for solving problems, developing plans, synthesizing and organizing information, and much, much more.

How do we, as parents and educators, encourage and develop the skill of creative thinking in our children?

Boiled down, the task is two-fold:

  1. Get rid of methods that hinder the process
  2. Start using techniques that will push creativity forward

Simple right?  But what techniques help to create ideas and allow for expression?

Strictly speaking, some of these “techniques” are so non-technical that they might better be described as “approaches”.  These are not a list of magic formulas.  The matter isn't that simple. It is not automatic; it is not guaranteed; and, frankly, it is not easy. Above all it must be understood: they are tools for jump-starting the creative flow, but they are not automatic mind pills.

They are ways of approaching teaching and learning that foster creative thought processes:

1. Imagination

Imaginative thought allows us to process problems in our minds.  We can play with possible consequences, scenarios, and reactions before those things become reality.  It is significant in cognitive development and problem solving.

One of the greatest ways to get imaginative juices flowing is through free-play.  This is best demonstrated in preschool classes where children are allowed to explore and play with objects and concepts.  But even older children and adults use imagination to form ideas in their mind.

By encouraging imagination and visualization during the learning process, you are creating a springboard for creative thought.

2. Observation

When we focus our senses and mentally record what we find, we are not only processing information but also allowing ourselves to think of how that information fits within what we already know, and what could possibly be.

Observation can be described as perception with purpose.  When we are faced with a problem or obstacle we need a place to start that will help us create solutions.  Stopping to focus and observe before we receive any input on how to resolve an issue can help us to create the solution ourselves.

Dan Meyer does an excellent job of explaining why giving a problem to students/children, along with the formula, hinders their ability to create solutions themselves.  He also shows some ways in which he encourages creative thinking through observation in his classroom:

3. Brainstorming

The goal of brainstorming is to produce the greatest possible number of al­ternative ideas for later evaluation and development.

    • Judgement is withheld until later
    • Generate as many ideas as possible
    • List the ideas or record them in relation to each other
    • Combination and improvement of ideas is sought

Quantity is the key word here.  When you brainstorm, you are trying to generate as many ideas as possible, no matter if they seem improbably, impossible, or downright silly.

To help kids record their brainstorming ideas, mind maps are extremely useful.  There are even free online tools to help kids and adults mind map ideas.

4. Free Association

Free association is similar to brainstorming, yet there is one major difference.  In brainstorming, you are listing and compiling ideas.  With free association, you focus on individual words or symbols.

If I say the word “apple”- what is the first word that pops into your mind?  And what word do you think of when you write down that word?  The process of free association is to get you to go beyond a topic and explore how things are associated (or related) in your mind.

The same method also works for pictures or symbols.  Draw a simple picture or start with an example.  Then draw whatever picture you think of when you look at the first.  Next, you draw a picture that is related to the one before it, etc.

5. Attribute Analysis

This is a technique used to investigate and improve tangible things.  You take an item, such as a camera, and list all the attributes of that item that you can think of.

List parts, functions, features, bonuses, and every characteristic of the item.  Then you can start asking questions that could lead to ways in which the item could be improved, combined with another thing, simplified, added to, or phased out of use.

Think of all the ways the simple camera has been changed over the years. Without creative thinking no one would have put a camera inside a phone, made it digital, created ones that could go underwater, or simplified them so even a child could use them.


Using these techniques on a regular basis, in lieu of rote learning and rigid formulas, can help children generate new ideas and solutions to problems.

It also prepares them to constantly be updating their knowledge base in order to compete with the changing ideas and problems in the workplace, the sciences, and the world.

What other ways can you think of to inspire creative thinking?

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Aadel Bussinger
Aadel has been married to her career Army man for 13 years and they have 2 daughters and a freshly made son. She is a homeschooling mom, volunteer, and online college student. Her hobbies include cooking, organic gardening, sewing, and crocheting.She blogs about their military, unschooling life at These Temporary Tents.
Aadel Bussinger

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4 thoughts on “5 Techniques That Build Creative Thinking Skills

  1. As an employee of a creative services agency I have seen endless great ideas that originated in a brainstorming session. I’ve heard people say they don’t see the value, but I most certainly disagree. The end product may not be something that was shouted out during brainstorming, but those ideas often morf into real treasures.

    1. I agree Cherri- brainstorming generates possible ideas.  You can always go back and weed through the ones you don’t find usable.

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