How to Foster Child-Like Creativity

I recently heard a great NPR program on the creativity of children. The host was interviewing a magician, who was asking children if they could figure out his trick. Within about 2 minutes, the kids figured it out.

The he did the trick for adults. No game. Not a single adult could figure the trick out. The magician went on to explain that most magicians would rather do a show for adults, than children – children are much more like to figure the trick behind the trick, because of the way they think.

As it turns out, God wired children’s brains to learn rapidly – although we typically think of kids as less logical, less linear human beings, it turns out it’s just the opposite: kids show us what it means to be STRICTLY logical – when we are logical without making the assumptions adults make.

In fact, studies have shown that even infants, from the time of birth, are better able to make probability calculations than full-grown adults.

Maybe we have something to learn.

Kids Vs. Adults

Of course, being an adult has its upsides – we can more quickly come to conclusions when we make assumptions about our world. But then again – our quick assumptions aren’t always correct assumptions: in fact, they’re often wrong.

Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar, says in his book “Creativity INC” that adults are often blinded by the phrase “hindsight is 20/20”. In fact, he says, hindsight only SEEMS 20/20 – we often oversimplify reality to make it fit our assumptions, what psychologists call “confirmation bias.”

So while being an adult has its upsides, clearly, adults can learn a thing or two from kids.

How to Foster Child-Like Creativity. 

As I’ve thought through some of these insights, I made a list for myself of ways I could foster child-like creativity in my own work and life:

1. Ask “Why”?  Kids are always asking “Why?’. Adults either assume they have the answer, or find it too exhausting to continually question. But when facing tough creative problems, we’d do well to take a hint from this beautiful, one word question: “Why”?

2. List your assumptions. Often the things that get in our way in solving creative problems aren’t our solutions, but our diagnoses – we assume we understand the problem. We’d often do well to get others’ perspective, and not assume we understand what’s wrong. Listing our assumptions can be a helpful, backwards method of finding a solution.

3. Free-write or Free-draw. No hindrances – just start writing. Or drawing. See what comes – I’m always surprised.

4. Brainstorm. Same concept, but in a group – let everyone give answers, without criticism. Let people be creative, and create an atmosphere where people are free to be unconventional

5. Turn away from the light. One of the guests on NPR said that he sometimes tries to foster child-like creative thinking by listen to Bach’s sonatas and listening for the bass line. By listening for what is less obvious (the melody), we’re fostering our ability to think like a child.

6. Look for feedback. One of the marks of children is their ability to look for feedback and not be defensive at their results. If we’re to be as creative as they are, we’ll need to come to an understanding that we, too, are dependent on the perspectives of others.

7. Have fun. This was another takeaway from the program itself – when children learn most, they’re having fun. Find ways to make your work, or work atmosphere, a place that is engaging – a place that doesn’t feel like work. Find the part of your job that doesn’t feel like work, and play with it. You’ll be amazed by your productivity.


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Nicholas McDonald is a blogger, pastor, and author of the book "Faker: How to Be Real When You're Tempted to Fake it." He studied creative writing and communication at Oxford University and Olivet Nazerene University, and received his M.Div from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. He currently resides in Lexington, NC, with his wife and two boys, Caleb and Owen.


  1. Those 7 points are great, Nick. This post reminds me of when my kids were young and we saw how quickly they latched on to concepts and then used them in their play and how it prompted new questions,

    • Thanks, Tim – I think you’d love “Creativity Inc” – not sure how much of it applies to your work, but fascinating insights nonetheless.

  2. Excellent, Nick! I’ve learned much about creativity from my kids. They show me how to approach each day with a sense of wonder. No.5 made me think of a walk I took with my 3 yr old a couple yrs ago. Out of the blue he said, “Mmm . . . I smell walnuts!” — And sure enough we were walking under a walnut tree and there were some crushed nuts on the road. Much like listening for the bass line, he noticed something I would have taken for granted. 🙂

    • Great example, Adriana. On the program, someone wrote in and said they worked as a security guard at a mall. He would often stand above the shoppers, and he said kids would constantly look up and wave, while parents walked by, clueless. Sounds pretty similar to your experience!

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