Creativity and Childhood

Feb 28

Creativity and Childhood by Hilary Phillips

This article in appeared in the Sherborne Times, March 2024

We have just opened a new Art barn at Hanford. It’s a beautiful conversion of an old building and the activities that go on in there are truly amazing. As well as teaching all the usual artistic skills that you would find in a school, the girls also learn how to felt, weave, knit and sew, completing projects such as making a pair of pyjamas, designing and completing a dress and the juniors, of course, because it’s Hanford, make a large felt horse, complete with tack!

In these times when the arts are getting pushed further and further down the school curriculum list, we took the decision to invest in the creative arts. You may think that this means that we already have a floodlit astroturf, a performing arts centre with fully equipped theatre and a sports centre complex, complete with climbing wall. Well, no, we don’t. Not that the girls suffer-we have plenty of space for sport, plays, gym and we climb trees, not walls. We decided that what is really key to foster and nurture is creativity. By having a welcoming space in the heart of the school where art is first and foremost, we set the tone and expectation for spreading creativity throughout all we do.

Chatting with employers, it’s interesting to hear what they want in their new young employees.  It’s not a suite of top GCSE and A level grades followed by a first class degree from a distinguished university. What they want is a decent sort of person, one with a brain, initiative, energy, enthusiasm but above all, someone who is going to get on with people. Someone who can give a reasoned opinion, evaluate, disagree well, give and accept an apology and work as part of a team. Most importantly, they want someone with a creative mind who can solve problems.

We have all seen or read about technology taking over our lives and how it will soon render us obsolete; how AI is on the rise and if we are not all using it than we will be left languishing in the dust. Of course, we are going to need to understand how to use the tech around us, but we also need to be able to use it to empower our own thinking.

And so back to creativity. I recently heard a talk by Ben Edmonds who used to be Principal Engineer at Dyson.  There is nothing that man can’t make with a piece of cardboard! If you don’t believe me, look up his Inventor Club. He summed up what our approach should be to fostering creativity in our children. In essence, if we tell children what to do and how to do it then we take the power away from them. They will end up doing exactly what we can do and what is the point in that? Ben encourages us to accept the fact that children are geniuses and can figure things out by themselves, they just need some support and a little guidance. What they need in huge amounts is a belief in their own abilities. Here are his four key bullet points:

  • There is no one way to solve a problem – there are hundreds
  • No idea is a bad idea
  • I could help you, but I believe that YOU can do it
  • Don’t tell me what you can’t do. Don’t tell me what you’ll never be able to do until you’re tried 10,000 times! I believe in you, and I believe you can do it! (then I help them to help themselves and they are set free!)

I love this approach and know from experience that not only does it pay dividends, it also feels great. Making things with our hands, getting satisfaction from making things work, not giving up, all these things are so good for our mental health.

So this is why we have creativity woven into everything we do here at Hanford and why we will be continuing to ensure it is embedded in our curriculum. Everyone is creative in their own way and everyone has something to give. We will make sure that we always look for the way to simplify things, but also work to make ideas and projects more complex and challenging.


Hanford is an independent day and boarding prep school for girls in Dorset.

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