Ruth Sanford


This brief paper is an overview of a process in which I am currently involved - a synthesis of the research, writing, observation and reading that have consistently held my interest and piqued my curiosity since the early 1960’s. Over that period of time, in various ways, I have been engaged in professional work designed to seek out in children, and later in adults, the indications of creativity and have been privileged to see its blossoming. But even before this conscious awareness of cultivating creativity, I was doing just that in my work as a teacher. That was a long time ago - back in 1930 to 1937.

This is, I know, a departure from a usual approach to the question of nurturing creativity. It probably is highly controversial but I have found that any live inquiry and following of a new idea is bound to be controversial. In fact this whole approach, this whole way of being, which was evolved by Carl Rogers and others who worked with him, is in itself, has always been, controversial. It assumes that there is always a long way to go.

A woman, at a reception where Dr. Benjamin Spock, the famous pediatrician, was one of the guests, is reported to have said to him, "I hear that you have a theory that even very young children respond to their surroundings and to people around them much earlier than was commonly thought. I am six months pregnant and I wonder when should I begin to give my child the best start to becoming the most he/she can become?" Dr. Spock was reported to have answered, "My dear lady! If you are six months pregnant, you probably are at least a year late in asking that question."

Dr. Frederick Leboyer, the well-known French gynecologist and obstetrician, in his book Birth Without Violence, (1975), takes us back to the very earliest moments of birth, the days and months before and during birth and speaks eloquently for the fetus, for the baby who is emerging into a new world. When he wrote this book in 1984, he had delivered over 10,000 babies, 1,000 of them by the new method which is now called the "Leboyer Method." In this book he leads the reader through the whole process. Carl Rogers in On Personal Power, (1977), pp.32-33, gives this brief summary of what he called the person-centered way of birthing.

"First," he says, "there is a training of the mother for natural child birth. She is prepared for the steps the doctor will take and she will not be frightened by the fact that her baby will not loudly cry but may simply utter one or two small cries or gasps as it starts to breathe. Then come the changes in the methods of delivery. As soon as the head appears and it seems the birth will be normal, all the bright lights are extinguished leaving only one soft light.

During this time and afterwards, the delivery room is silent. If there must be conversation, it is whispered. As the child emerges, care is taken not to touch the head which has borne the brunt of the pain of the birth canal. The child then is settled comfortably on the mother’s belly where the warmth and the inner gurgles and the heartbeat can again be experienced. This placement makes it two sources of oxygen, avoiding brain damage, that is brain damage that is often caused from anoxia. The baby usually after a cry or two begins to breathe. Then by the time the umbilical cord starts pulsating, usually after four or five minutes, the infant’s breathing apparatus is working. He is then cradled in the most comfortable birth takes place and Dr. Leboyer in this book gives very good evidence of a reason for Carl having said, "This is the person-centered way of being born."

This baby who up to now has been accustomed to the soft light of the uterus, is respected and is ushered into a world where there is soft light, not glaring floodlights which make it comfortable for the physician but can burn the eyes of a baby just emerging. He speaks of the trauma of the child who has been born in the traditional way to say nothing of being held up with a spine that has been accustomed to curving in a limited space and suddenly straightened.

The parents have been prepared to greet this child with respect

as a human being not some production for which they can be proud or

something which will permit a physician to show his skill. Parents

who have been prepared for birth in this way can be expected to

continue that kind of respect for this small human being who is in

their care. [In this connection I call attention to a chapter which

is titled "The New Family and the Old," (ibid), (1977. It deals with

ways in which even a very small child in a family can be respected.]

Now at the time that On Personal Power was written there had been very little research but Nancy Berezin in, The Gentle Birth Book, (1983) describes follow up studies of 126 of these babies delivered by this method. At the age of three the study shows them to be astonishingly free of sleeping and feeding problems, to be more alert, coordinated and playful than other children. They also tend to be more constructive and more inventive. In other words, more creative. How early can you start in nurturing and creativity? In my opinion we must go back to the selection of a doctor for the birth process who will have respect from the beginning for an individual new life, and the preparation of the prospective parents.

The only need I ever heard Carl express as a real need for a human being - a need which is necessary to be fulfilled if a person is to develop a true sense of self, "that need," he said, "is to be unconditionally accepted by at least one significant other, preferably the mother or a parent. And," he added, "this need is persistent in the individual and pervasive in the society."

This is one reason why I feel that although this is a controversial introduction to the subject of nurturing creativity, it is in line with all of the work which Carl did on respect for the individual and trust that an individual will be positive and constructive if a climate is provided for that individual in which growth can take place and the open growing person is, in his/her own way, being creative which can be evidenced in any of many, many ways. It might be in artistic ways. It might be in scientific ways. It might be in the art of living. I am reminded of a fragment of a poem, author unknown, "He did not gain but was success." It calls to mind my father who in the eyes of the world was often judged as being unsuccessful, nevertheless, succeeded in an important role as father. He early gave me the assurance I was loved and important to him. I grew up feeling I have a place in this world.

I would like to tell a little about myself and the various research projects in which I’ve been involved since about the early 1950’s. It touches on the early school years. I was invited to be a consultant for the New York State Department of Education on a project involving 57 school districts. The study was to determine which schools had the greater holding power (holding students in school through graduation) and to identify those factors most relating to success or failure in school. That was a study that extended over a period of seven years and I was invited to go up to help design the last year of that study. The designing of that final year involved the reading of hundreds of records of children from kindergarten through whatever grade they were in at that time and I was depressed. I was terribly concerned when I saw a pattern emerging. According to those anecdotal records kept by teachers, these small children came to kindergarten quite full of life and excitement about learning new things. Probably those first years from two to four or five are the most important years in terms of rapid growth. What those records showed was that children who came to kindergarten full of excitement about learning, about everything in the world around them, had by the end of kindergarten begun to conform to what was expected of them rather than to show their enthusiasm and excitement about learning new things.

Notes that the teachers wrote were sometimes "This child has improved greatly. He has learned to sit quietly. He has learned not to talk unless he is spoken to," etc. So, he was learning to distrust his own enthusiasm. At the end of the fourth grade there was another leveling off and some children were withdrawing, were pulling into themselves and becoming very quiet. Some children were rebelling and becoming behavior problems. Some children were doing quite well and being rewarded for it by a good grade and a few were remaining individual and enthusiastic in their own way, not always approved by the teacher. I couldn’t help feeling what a waste.

It was from that experience that I became involved in grades eight through eleven, at first in the local school district where I was counselor. We were able to get a small Federal Title Grant from the State Department of Education and to make a study of the creativity and intelligence in our school district, a study of the relationship between creativity and intelligence as measured by test scores. I’m not going into this in detail but I would like to sketch out something of what that action research was over a period of seven years.

There was a sabbatical leave which is granted once in seven years, a year to do research or travel or whatever. I used my sabbatical year to continue the study. We used a standardized test supposed to measure intelligence. I have my doubts about it but it’s commonly used. The way in which those intelligence tests are misused is sometimes a horror. Children are classified as not able to learn on an abstract level or whatever classification administrators choose and a child can be branded for life on the result of tests which is certainly another waste and a shame. After considerable searching, it was possible to find some instruments, not standardized tests, which could be used to identify creative tendencies in students of these ages, grade eight and grade eleven.

These "tests" themselves upset all kinds of precedents. The first "test" was Word Association. The student was asked to give as many categories of uses as possible for fairly common stimulus words. The second one was Uses for Things. A subject was asked to give as many uses as possible for objects that customarily have a stereotyped function. Common things like brick, for example, or how many ways can you use a brick? The student can use his/her imagination for other common objects. Here the person was scored according to the number of uses and the originality of the uses. The third one was Hidden Shapes. The test is a card that consists of simple geometric figures. The student was asked to find simple figures hidden in a complex design. The fourth was Fables and this one I especially like. The end of the fable was omitted and the student was asked to complete it in his own way.

The fifth was Make-up-a-Problem. The student was presented with two paragraphs, each containing a number of numerical statements. The student was then asked to make up as many problems as possible that could be solved by using only the information given in the foregoing paragraphs.

The creativity scores were the composite scores from those tests, simply not weighting them but adding the scores together. Then the subject was given a sheet of paper with an empty frame and a suggested title for a drawing. He was permitted to draw whatever he wanted whenever he wanted to do it during the testing period. The time limits were generous and students could go back to previous tests during the testing period. Further details and discussion of statistics can be found in my paper on "Creativity and Intelligence (1964).

The purpose of our research was to identify students who were potentially highly creative and to provide them an opportunity to use their potential in a nurturing climate in the classroom. When we administered various tests, our findings indicated that highly creative students are discriminated against when school grades and intelligence scores are used as a basis of selection for college admission. Approximately two-thirds of the students with high creativity scores would be eliminated by using tests of intelligence or school grade average as indicators of potential. In general, school administrators tend to use either or both of these measures in the selection of students for college or classes for the gifted.

Statistical analysis yielded surprising results. We found that for the total data there was a significant correlation between intelligence and creativity scores. It was not a high correlation but it was high enough to be significant. But I couldn’t stop there. I was curious and we broke the data down into five quintiles. We started at the top one. We found that there was no significant correlation. It was ten. (I find this kind of search one of the most exciting things I can do.) We went to the next lower quintile and so on all the way down to the lowest quintile (V). Where was the significant correlation? There in the bottom quintile we found it.

We found three things were true of the persons whose scores fell in the bottom quintile. They scored low on the intelligence test. They scored low on the achievement test and they scored low on the creativity test. There was another factor. They had the highest incidence of referrals for psychological help.

So we asked, "How could this be? What does that mean? Does it mean that students with low intelligence as measured (I always want to qualify it) by those tests were really not capable of learning?

As we studied the group, we found that scores had been depressed as they progressed in school and it became apparent that these children had in some way been really damaged emotionally which affected the measure of their intelligence.

That is food for thought and I think there is room in that for a great many other studies. Unfortunately we couldn’t follow that all the way to the end. As Carl Rogers remarked, "There are at least five doctoral dissertations in that data."

There was repeated discouragement in school. Students in that group had been let back - not promoted because they weren’t up to standards and became discouraged. They were stigmatized by such labels as "nonreaders," "nonverbal," or "slow learners." They had learned not to trust their own experience and to accept others’ opinion of them as real.

We had the records all the way from kindergarten, so you could see the changes as they went along. Some were family problems. There were many different variations on the pattern of development but some common threads were evident for this group. Some of them were the rebellious ones that I spoke about earlier that began to show about fourth grade. Some were the withdrawn ones who gave up. They were not succeeding in the school environment.

One of the interesting things about this is that because of the length of time, it was possible to do some longitudinal studies. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to follow all of the students or a large number but we have followed some. Part of the chapter in Carl Rogers’ Freedom to Learn for the 80’s, (1983), has a brief description of this study and it has a statement some 20 years later by one of the students in the classes which we formed.

Following that research, we selected students who had shown higher potential early who ranged from fairly high scores on the intelligence test to quite low ones but who had early shown signs of being unusually original, inquisitive and excited about learning. We formed classes for them which they insisted on calling EXP, for experimental. They liked that.

We followed one group of students through for two years, eleventh grade through senior year, another for three years, from eighth grade through tenth grade. We created a very open ended way of working in the classroom - counselors and teachers working together. Our school psychologist also worked with us.


One of the things we insisted on if students were going to be in  these EXP classes was that their parents also become involved from the  beginning. It was very interesting that parents soon came and asked if we could form groups for the parents too. They said, "Our conversation at dinner had become so much more interesting that we would like to know more about what happens in school." Each student had what we called "The Living Textbook." It was made up of articles, collections from books, magazines, current material which would begin discussion of some interesting topic like outer space which was then being explored as a kind of far out dream. They hadn’t landed on the moon yet. One section of it was the human or social world which had to do with the world of the human being and all of its ramifications. There was one section on the technological world. There was one on the aesthetic world and another on the natural world. We used topics, parts of articles and stopped before it was finished. We didn’t give the conclusion. So that if their curiosity was aroused they needed to go and get some material which was accessible to them in the library or wherever they could find it. We told them that the minute they began to take something out of that book or add something to it or change it that it became uniquely theirs. It was then their book and not like anyone elses.

Some students became so interested and excited that many of them would take turns presenting to the class - some of them were "nonreaders" by the way! The student from these groups who wrote a part of one chapter in Freedom to Learn for the 80’s (1983) speaks about her experience in that class as being the first time that she worked and developed a project just for herself because she was interested and excited and not for a grade or to please anybody. She said that it was like having a window open on the world. She is now a supervisor in a school on Long Island for children with special needs.

That was in 1961. It’s very interesting that, while I was conducting this study in West Hempstead, I was unaware of Carl’s paper "Towards a Theory of Creativity" presented at Ohio State University in 1957, or of his interest in creativity. He made three main points which I shall summarize briefly. He says, "In the first place, for me as a scientist, there must be something observable, some product of creation. The second is that these products must be a novel construction. They must be unique and individual."

Third, he speaks about the various ways of being creative which we mentioned earlier. He said, "My definition then of the creative process is the emergence and action of a novel, relational product growing out of the uniqueness of the individual on one hand and the material, event, people or circumstances of his life on the other."

Then he goes back to the motivation of creativity which he believes is a part of the actualizing tendency. He says, "By this I mean the directional trend which is evident for all organic and human life, the urge to expand, extend, develop, mature - the tendency to express and activate all capacities of the organism or the self."

And now comes what showed up in our study. This tendency may become deeply buried under layer after layer of encrusted psychological defenses. It may be hidden behind elaborate facades which deny its existence. It is my belief, however, based on my experience, that the potential for creativity exists in all human beings and awaits only the proper conditions to be released and expressed. It is this tendency which is the primary motivation for creativity as the organism forms new relationships to the environment in its endeavor more fully to be itself.

One of the conditions essential to the fruition of creativity in the individual as Carl stated it is openness to experience. As I see it, those children who stagnated, became behavior problems, withdrew, whatever, had been taught that it was dangerous to be open to their experience. In a person who’s open to experience, each stimulus is freely relayed throughout the nervous system without being distorted by any process of defensiveness.

One of the earliest ways a child learns to distrust his/her experience is when an adult says, "Oh, that didn’t hurt," even though the child is in pain. A positive alternative is for the adult to acknowledge and act to alleviate it.

I particularly like this because I remember the things that I have experienced and are being done in school. Reinforcing the child’s trust in his/her experience means that instead of having stereotyped categories imposed on them like trees or houses - the child is aware of the moment as it is and is free to say, "Well, my tree is lavender," or later, "This college education is not good."

This child or this person has learned that his locus of evaluation is inside himself, that he can trust it. This is the result of being encouraged and permitted freedom within the learning process - to make his own definitions rather than accepting without question all given definitions. This kind of child is not the easiest to work with. It’s much easier if everyone conforms.

I remember a conversation I had with Dr. Matyushkin in his office in 1986. He had been talking about the importance of nurturing creativity and encouraging it in the school system. Carl said to him, "But that is dangerous." His reply was, "How is it dangerous?" Carl answered, "It is dangerous because when you let people think for themselves, they don’t always do what you want them to." Dr. Matyushkin was very thoughtful and said, "But it’s more dangerous not to."

So far I have been referring to fostering creativity in the schools. Carl in his paper "Fostering Creativity," emphasizes the role of the parent as researched by Harrington, Block and Block (1986).

In their study 106 children were followed from age 4 to age 11-14. Rigorous research methods were used to identify and evaluate the child rearing practices of the parents. The results confirmed to a high degree of validity the effectiveness of the practice of the conditions set forth by Carl Rogers as conducive to high levels of creative performance. Four external conditions as outlined by Carl Rogers in his earlier (1954) paper were supported by the findings.

Those conditions were:

Acceptance of the individual as a person of worth A climate of sensitive empathic understanding Complete freedom to express all feelings in symbolic form (but not always the acting out of one’s feelings)

Moving from carefully controlled research conditions to a way of being in a family is not a long step. The parents to whom I shall refer gave no evidence of a desire to nurture creativity but rather to solve a problem of family dysfunction. However, it is clear to me that the two are related.

Ben and Claire as described in On Personal Power, (1977), in Chapter two, the new family and the old had come to an impasse. They felt it was impossible to continue living in their family as it was. The family was in crisis. Claire was in despair. What they did was to call the family together and say, "Now look. We’re in a mess. Now we’re a family and what we are going to try to do is for us to sit down in a family counsel and say, ‘These are the things that are wrong. These are the things I don’t like. These are the things I get very angry about and then try to decide together how we are going to solve this problem.’"

They set aside a certain time each week when they would have their family counsel. Together they made certain rules. Then they assumed responsibility for carrying out those simple rules in order to keep the house running. It wasn’t easy. But it’s a fascinating story of the way in which they developed, not only freedom of choice, but responsibility for the results.

That brings us to discipline which is sometimes overlooked. Freedom needs to be balanced by discipline because just random, individual, original, spontaneous acts are not necessarily creative nor do they necessarily result in productive living. Whether it be in the family or in the school room or in the life of an artist or a productive scientist, freedom to explore, to be open to experience needs to be present. Responsibility for the use of that freedom needs to be a factor and the sense of being a part of the whole larger environment needs to be a part. But it happened with the students in our EXP classes. It took them half of a year to believe that adults really meant what they said, that is, they were trusted, they were partners in the learning process. They were given both freedom and responsibility.

It has become evident that the nurturance of creativity in the human organism goes back at least as early as the journey through the birth canal to emerge as a separate entity. A more thorough inquiry would reach back to the lives of the parents and their preparation for childhood. At the present time, we have concerned ourselves with what has been called a person-centered way of being born, being received and welcomed with respect.

We have considered the contribution to the nurturance of the creative potential that can be made by our educational system and by parental behaviors. We have also considered the effect of starvation of that potential by sending a message to the growing child that you can’t trust your own experience and that you must conform.

We have presented a provocative theory of the nature of creativity and the results of three longitudinal studies (Leboyer, Sanford and Harrington, Block and Block) on the effect of applying the principles of the person-centered approach as it evolved in the work of Carl Rogers.

The intent of this paper is to share my own experience and research, to encourage communication among researchers and to express the need for continued exploration into the nature and nurture of creative potential.














Berezin, Nancy. The Gentle Birth Book. Simon and Schuster, New York, 1980.

Leboyer, Frederick. Birth Without Violence (revised). Alfred A.

Knopf, Inc., 1984. (translation copyright 1975).

Roger, Carl R. On Becoming a Person. Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1961. Chapter 19, "Toward a Theory of Creativity," pp. 347-359.

Rogers, Carl R. Carl Rogers On Personal Power. Delacorte Press, New York, 1977, pp. 31-34.

Rogers, Carl R. Freedom to Learn for the 80’s. Charles E. Merrill, London, Toronto, Columbus, Ohio, 1983. "Freedom Part Time and Its Consequences," pp. 108-115.

Rogers, Carl R. "Fostering Creativity," unpublished paper, 1986.

Sanford, Ruth C. "A Study of Creativity and Intelligence:

Implications for Counselors," unpublished paper, 1964.

Sanford, Ruth C. and Ginsberg, Jeanne. "Developing Creativity and Responsibility in the Educational System," unpublished paper, 1986.

Wertz, Frederick J. "Birth of the Infant: A Developmental Perspective," American Psychologist, 1987.


Further Leboyer references (French) are:

Leboyer, Frederick. L’Art du Souffle, Michel Albin

__________________. Cette Lumiere d’ou Vient, Seuil.

__________________. Le Sacre de la Naissance, Phebus.

__________________. Shantala, Seuil.

__________________. Bebe, Ecole des Loisirs

Manushkin, and Himler eds.