If you listened to Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk about “How Schools Kill Creativity” , you would assume most children enter school tremendously talented and creative and exit at the opposite end of the spectrum. It is an entertaining talk, including naive quips from children that could easily fit into Art Linkletter’s (and later Bill Cosby’s) program Kids Say the Darndest Things.
Robinson makes the assumption that the unusual things children say is evidence of creativity. However this idea is never supported during his talk. Sometimes children’s “unique” sayings are a result of misunderstanding language. At other times they are concrete interpretation of abstract things they have been told.
Robinson also fails to explain why there is a noticeable percentage of students that not only remain creative but increase in creative production while in school. These students are in the same schools that turn out the uncreative students that Robinson feels are being prepared for work based on the industrial revolution. (In reality, subjects currently taught in school more closely reflect those taught to the upper class when only the wealthy were educated and almost everyone else learned a trade.)
But, back to the question of whether or not children are actually more creative than adults. When student in schools take the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking, the scores tend to be higher for older students. This was confirmed by a study from the University of Catania, Italy, testing a sample of 112 Italian school children. The older children scored significantly higher was elaboration .
Longitudinal studies of children’s creative development in the United States, using the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and the Test of Creative Feeling show a slump in creative ability between fourth and sixth grade followed by an increase in creativity between grades six and nine. that is marked by cognitive elaboration . The Test of Creative Thinking require that something be produced and refined based on original ideas. This is a more demanding definition of creativity than simply connecting it to talking about unusual ideas.
Edward de Bono, author of six hat thinking system, theorizes that childlike or natural creativity is based on suspending judgment of prior knowledge. Of course, children do not have nearly as much prior knowledge as adults. This kind of creativity “does not depend as much on preconceived rules, seeing things as they appear and not as we know them.”  However he finds it is not very powerful either, because the creativity that changes society is an unnatural process. It cuts across the patterns that have been formed. A person must intentionally change their perception in order to do this.
When interviewing students who had continued studies in creative areas in higher education, I heard their ideas on childhood creativity expressed. Many students felt that their ideas were “more wild and far out” as children. However, they did not know how to produce these ideas. As they got older their creativity became more practical and more useful. Perseverance was the characteristic that they saw dividing the more creative students from the less, not avoiding indoctrination from education.