Active Learning and Creativity Belong in the Primary Classroom

Grace McGuirk

Although knowledge acquisition has maintained its primary value at the forefront of practical education, most twenty-first-century educators have altered their perspectives to consider intelligence and creativity as two dependent factors. The study of active educational practices and the developmental effect of creativity have only recently surfaced in early childhood education; however, it has quickly become the main focus for many educationalists despite the historical fixation on knowledge proficiency. With the integration of creativity, it is also important that teachers support their students in their independent and cooperative peer work through positive motivation and reinforcement (Leggett). Effective use of said practices allows students to build a rich educational foundation and develop a fuller learning experience for both themselves and their teachers. Educators must not only provide students with imaginative environments, but they must also be mindful of their interests and pursue ways to stimulate their curiosity through collaborative work, positive reinforcement, and creative activities.

As mentioned previously, student engagement in the primary classroom can be a troubling issue without the presence of active learning. Often, educators become caught up in curriculum outcomes and fear that their students will fall behind. Currently, numerous school districts worldwide place considerable emphasis on standard-based education and rapid cognitive development. These limiting standards develop strict boundaries and little time for active learning in early education (Portier). In turn, students are left susceptible to poor outcomes. In placing substantial importance on knowledge acquisition, rather than active teaching methods, educators strip their students of their ability to make educational connections to concepts and practices that they already know and understand (Swanson). Typically, educators also experience uncertainty in giving power to their students and allowing them to take ownership of their creative outcomes. Perhaps this is because students can feel uncomfortable taking academic risks, however, students do not benefit from being withheld the opportunity to take responsibility for their work.

Unsurprisingly, when educators allow their students to experience academic uncertainty, students can begin to fear failure and feel as though they are doing something wrong (Swanson). In situations where negative priming occurs within the classroom environment, there is commonly a significant drop of interest for the students, as well as the teacher. However, upon removing students from overbearing environments such as a knowledge-driven classroom, their interest levels are likely to increase. Notably, children are among the highest quality evaluators and judges that the education system has access to due to their distinctive value in and frequent use of creativity. Therefore, it is the responsibility of educators to recognize their creative potential and adapt the environment to formulate the best learning outcomes (Leggett). Educators experience positive gain from observantly addressing what interests their students and what causes them to become sidetracked. Additionally, it is essential to note that the implementation of play in early learning “capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and exuberance” (qtd. in Portier). Thus, educators and students can benefit from the introduction of active play in the primary classroom by staying on task and exhibiting high levels of engagement.

As a result of the integration of active teaching practices, engagement levels within the classroom are expected to increase, as well as overall classroom efficiency and the production of creative thought. Of course, this is all dependent on maintaining a positive and welcoming environment. Educators must provide their students with a classroom environment that sparks a sense of belonging and inclusion to allow ample space for consistency and creative thinking (Leggett). Teachers are not in complete control of their teaching environments, such as building layouts, but they are capable of adapting to practical uses of the provided space. For example, the implementation of designated learning areas such as reading centres, math stations, and success desks for individual work allows students to associate specific classroom spaces with certain tasks, which in turn develops a welcoming familiarity within the classroom. Additionally, a teacher may choose to arrange classroom seating in groups rather than rows to allow accessible communication and group work (Šlahova 21). This approach makes group collaboration functional and efficient, while also providing students with a space in which they feel welcomed, accepted, and free to think creatively. Though the environment of a primary classroom may seem insignificant, it is crucial to the effectiveness of active learning on creativity, as well as classroom coherence.

In addition to the adaptation of active learning spaces within the primary classroom, educators must also provide their students with plenty of opportunities for collaborative work. Since social interaction plays such an essential role within the learning of young children, collaborative work must not only be an experience that peers share but also an experience that students share with their teachers (Portier). There are many approaches to collaborative peer work, although exploring how reading and writing are connected resonates deeply with many students. For example, educators may wish to group their students together to discuss their literary findings, such as common themes throughout fairy tales, and apply it to their own writing. Activities such as collaborative reading and writing provide students with enhanced analytical skills and new perspectives gained from their peers.

Educators may also wish to adjust or expand their literacy instruction by including playful activity. Typically, playful environments encourage young children in the development of their reading and writing practices and language use (Portier). To illustrate this concept, primary classrooms within the northern rural and indigenous areas of Canada implemented a study on action research projects. A variety of classrooms participated in this research, all from different grade levels, and with different approaches; for example, a first-grade classroom engaged in a study consistent with first-grade science topics of change in season and the importance of plants and animals (Portier). The teacher executed the experiment in a way that engaged students in collaborative and creative exploration. With the consideration of student interest, the teacher was able to foster student learning on a broad spectrum with the integration of environmental instruction, visual arts, drama, oral language, and writing (Portier).

Active research projects not only enforce collaborative work, but they also strengthen literacy lessons, science and mathematical awareness, and self-improvement. Moreover, educators need to provide their students with adequate power in the outcome of said activities. For young children, work ethic is incredibly dependent on the audience in which they are performing for. When educators allow their students to interact with people besides their teacher, they begin to associate their efforts with a purpose. As a result, students experience a rise in positive motivation and confidence in their work (Swanson). For this reason, students and their educators must work in collaboration.

Furthermore, when students and their educators work coherently, educators must extend their praise and motivation. When students experience positive motivation while making thoughtful connections, their development of creative thinking comes naturally. Educators praise students for their best efforts, no matter the outcome of their academic achievement (Swanson). Although educator expectations may not fluently align with the academic achievement of their students, teachers must consistently acknowledge the work they have done. Seeing as select students often require ample improvement, positive reinforcements encourage them to remain positive and filter out worries of failure. A growing number of educators often view themselves as an outlet for praise and positive reinforcement in response to their students’ creative thinking (Leggett). This educators’ point of view is incredibly beneficial to consistent classroom practices of creative freedom which involve the limitless possibilities of student thought. When taking this approach to classroom praise, a teacher may withdraw themselves from further expanding on their student’s creative thoughts and allow the children to have creative power over the situation.

In relation to teachers withdrawing themselves, primary classrooms in Australia perceive the concept of creative independence to be highly favourable and believe that children entirely embody creativity. Though this topic may be debated by some, it cannot be denied that the inclusion of creativity is proven to provide young students with the rich educational foundations that they require (Leggett). Children initially acquire the majority of their knowledge by learning through their body, rather than through their brain (Stevens), and little changes once they become students in elementary classrooms. Young students are still primarily driven by physical motivators that later aid in the development of new findings, such as the ability to assign new meanings. For instance, students can assign new meanings through the implementation of dramatic play and imagination, much like when a kindergarten class in an Ontario school was able to achieve this upon bringing their favourite local market to the classroom. As students lined up at their imaginative market booths, their ‘customers’ waited patiently to buy large pumpkins for their porch. However, looking at the situation from a less creative point of view may reveal that their market booths are simply student desks pushed together, and the pumpkins are brown paper bags stuffed and painted orange (Portier). Smaller-scale recreations or dramatized plays, similar to the local market activity, allow children to better understand how society functions in day-to-day life and ultimately highlights the student ability to recognize concepts such as symbolization and the appropriate use of social language. Although it is upon educators to implement activities within their classrooms, they are also responsible for addressing and promoting the use of creative thinking to provide their students with opportunities to foster these productive foundational outcomes.

As the final analysis of these educational approaches to active learning and creativity, educators must first understand that curricular outcomes and active learning practices do not have to be separate (Portier). Overall, creativity is now viewed as an equally important focus within the primary classroom as students’ knowledge acquisition is dependent on creative concepts. For children to create to the extent that we wish them to, we must engage their senses in environments that provide them comfort. Moreover, a classroom should be a place of shared power and collaboration. Educators must restrain from overpowering their students with knowledge-based learning, and instead provide them with the creative freedom to find new meanings within their school work. By enabling student abilities such as cooperation, motivation, and creativity, educators may notice an enhancement of knowledge acquisition, thereby suggesting that universal integration of active learning practices would significantly improve student performance. Although the active learning approach may introduce drastic changes within the primary classroom, it can be introduced over time, providing students with a build-up of healthy foundational outcomes and creative experiences that make learning all the more enjoyable.


Works Cited

Leggett, Nicole. “Early Childhood Creativity: Challenging Educators in their Role to Intentionally Develop Creative Thinking in Children.” Early Childhood Education Journal, vol. 45, no. 6, 2017, pp. 845-853.

Portier, Christine, Nicola Friedrich, and Shelley S. Peterson. “Play(Ful) Pedagogical Practices for Creative Collaborative Literacy.” Reading Teacher, vol. 73, no. 1, 2019, pp. 17-27.

Stevens, Clair. The Growing Child: Laying the Foundations of Active Learning and Physical Health. Routledge, 2013.

Swanson, Kristen, and Hadley J. Ferguson. Unleashing Student Superpowers: Practical Teaching Strategies for 21st Century Students. Corwin, 2016.

Šlahova, Aleksandra, Ilze Volonte, and Maris Cacka. “Interrelations in the Development of Primary School Learners’ Creative Imagination and Creative Activity When Depicting a Portrait in Visual Art Lessons.” Discourse and Communication for Sustainable Education, vol. 8, no. 1, 2017, pp. 102-120.


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