Learning Environments & Curriculum

Divergent and Convergent Thinking

Us humans employ multiple methods of thinking. Divergent thinking uses creative thought processes. Through exploration we work through many  possible solutions to a problem. It is free-flowing and non-linear and is usually very spontaneous. Convergent thinking, by contrast, usually means there is a correct and incorrect answer. There are directions to follow and is very linear, systematic and logical.

We all favor one over the other in the way we think and learn, but in life we use them both. As early childhood professionals, it is important that we make sure our children have both types of experiences. Not only does it address multiple learning styles, it helps to develop the whole brain. One style supports the other.

So how do we provide these opportunities?

Divergent –

You’ve heard it before. Children need to explore. Art should be open-ended. Blocks should have a variety of shapes and sizes to allow for experimentation. All of these things address divergent thinking. The creative process that allows children so play with different ideas and learn that, sometimes, there is no wrong answer. This is what we need to employ critical thinking. Most children think this way naturally.

Here are some examples:

  • Asks a question looking for ideas
  • Legos (yes, they employ both. Legos only fit together in a  certain way, but once you fit them the possibilites are endless).
  • Open ended art projects, like inventions. Give children a variety of materials and have them invent something. Anything they want. You might start one week with giving them an idea – invent a bug. Then doing it again with less instruction.
  • Playdough
  • Easel painting (with no example or expectations)
    • Use two primary colors and allow for the mixing to a secondary color – discovery!)
  • On a nature walk, pick up a stick and ask, “What could this be?” Let all children pick a stick then go back and create – talk about the creations.
  • Lay on the ground and look at the clouds. What do they look like? (the book – It looked like spilt milk – is perfect for after this)
  • In group time, ask open ended, relatable questions. Example: it’s a rainy day. Ask, what would happen if it rained every day? Any question that really has no answer (what if cats could bark?).
  • Dramatic play center – remember to change it out often enough that thinking is constantly stimulated.


Convergent –

Those manipulative toys we stock on the shelves often require convergent thinking. Puzzles have only one correct answer. If it’s the wrong piece, it won’t fit. Matching games like lotto or the card game concentration, all require exact comparisons. These activities provide a child with the opportunity to engage that logical reasoning.

Here are some examples:

  • Gives the answer and asks for facts
  • Flash cards
  • Memory games; Memorization
  • Lego (see above)
  • Multiple choice
  • Letter recognition
  • Counting and number recognition
  • Identifying sounds
  • Balancing (in the sensory table)
  • Measuring
  • Practicing shapes and colors
  • Using observation skills
  • Charts and graphs

Providing both types of learning are critical to brain development. As adults, we have learned to use convergent thinking regularly and have difficulty with the creative, divergent thinking. In order to use that valuable skill of critical thinking, we need to be able to use both divergent and convergent. Offering our children both opportunities helps them learn to connect the two.


So now that you understand the two, how do you make sure your children get the whole learning experience?


© Copyright 2018 Helen Fern

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