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MMC Psychology Professor Channels the Power of Creativity in New Children’s Game, Textbook

What do a college textbook and a tabletop children’s game have in common? As two of the newest projects from Nava Silton Ph.D., an MMC psychology professor and director of the Center for Health, Human Development, and Creativity, they share a similar mission and supporting cast—even if they’ll wind up in the hands of very different audiences.

The book Exploring the Benefit of Creative Arts Therapies for Children, Adolescents, and Adults, published in May, is a deep dive into how the creative arts can be used to help people overcome mental health and other challenges, while the game Unbox Your Creativity, available now for pre-order, prompts kids ages 6 and up to dream up new inventions. Still, both tackle a subject Dr. Silton has centered her career around: harnessing the power of creativity to support human development and well-being.

“The game is a hands-on and entertaining way for children to learn creative thinking, while the book explores the unique benefits and efficacy of creative arts therapies,” Dr. Silton said. “But both point to the importance of creativity.”

And, as so many of her projects do, they both put the talents of MMC students and alums on full display. Dr. Silton enlisted frequent collaborator Anthony J. Ingargiola ’16 to design Unbox Your Creativity’s materials and website and several MMC student and alumni contributors for her textbook: Zachary Biron ’24, Kayleen Cabrera ’23, Giselle Caraballo ’22, Emmalynne Knuth ’22, Heather Kroesche ’23, Hunter Lloyd ’23, Jenna Rivera ’23, and Deanna Villetto ’17.

The textbook is Dr. Silton’s eighth—but for some students and alums, it’s the first time their work has been published. That, Dr. Silton said, is one of the benefits of being part of an intimate learning community like MMC, where faculty and students can easily collaborate, and a perk she would have wanted for herself as a student.

“As an undergrad, I would put so much effort into writing a research-based, nuanced paper. And I was always frustrated that it just ended there—I would get the grade and be done,” Dr. Silton said. “So, I love the idea of giving students the opportunity to have a deliverable or outcome for work they have poured their heart and soul into.”


Embracing “Gray” Thinking

Unbox Your Creativity prompts kids to think up wacky new inventions that they must either describe, design, or dramatize while also playing off and connecting with fellow users. Ultimately, Dr. Silton said, it helps kids boost their divergent thinking skills, or the ability to devise multiple solutions to a problem.

“Having the ability to think beyond black or white, yes or no answers—to think in the gray and find multiple solutions—is one of the skills that top companies are looking for in employees,” Dr. Silton said. “The game gives schools and families the opportunity to build these creative skillsets in their children from a young age.”

Dr. Silton got the idea for the project during the pandemic while working part-time on a mental health team at her children’s school.

“I worked with first through third-grade students, and every week, I would come in and give them a creativity challenge,” she said. “I would say, ‘If you could create a robot, what would it look like? What materials would you use? What would you call it?’ Something to get their divergent thinking stimulated. And they had such a blast with it that I thought, ‘Why not turn this into a game?’”

She was already familiar with the game-manufacturing process. When dating during the pandemic became a largely virtual affair, her single friends often sought her professional advice to better relate to prospective partners. In response, she created Bashert, a card game that aids couples in connecting; its Yiddish name means intended one or soulmate. Dr. Silton worked directly with a card company to produce it and, to date, has sold over 800 decks of the game in 30 stores and online.

Dr. Silton soon learned that some of the Bashert prompts, though intended for adults, were being used by families as conversation starters with their kids. “I was often asked to create a similar game aimed at children,” she said. Now, Unbox Your Creativity fulfills some of those needs.

Ingargiola helped design the packaging and website for Bashert, and Dr. Silton turned to him again for Unbox Your Creativity.

A Musical Theatre alum who has worked as an actor and singer since graduating, Ingargiola developed a passion for graphic design at MMC, where he loaded up on visual arts electives. He first worked with Dr. Silton on marketing materials related to Addy & Uno, a puppet show musical she created that spotlights characters with disabilities.

The two are now collaborating on a third game Dr. Silton has in the works: One of A Kind: Play it Forward, a children’s board game that teaches kids kindness and emotional intelligence. It’s scheduled for release in December. “What’s cool about Dr. Silton’s projects is that they’re all research-based,” he said. “It feels good knowing that you’re working on something that’s not just fun but has a point and value to it.”


A Confidence Booster

Students who contributed to Dr. Silton’s textbook said the benefits they derived from the project were also multilayered and, in some cases, unexpected.

Heather Kroesche ’23, who earned a BFA in Dance while double majoring in Psychology and minoring in Art Therapy, had Dr. Silton as a faculty advisor and recalls discussing her career plans with her.

Kroesche is auditioning for dance projects and teaching dance classes but is also eyeing other professional opportunities, including graduate school and work in the Art Therapy field. Before Kroesche graduated in the spring, Dr. Silton suggested that she fine-tune her senior thesis on the benefits of using dance movement therapy to treat eating disorders so that it could be included in the textbook; the publishing credit would make her grad school applications even stronger. “It was an incredible opportunity—a no-brainer,” Kroesche said.

But because student contributors were also asked to serve on the book’s Editorial Advisory Board and assist in reviewing and editing their peers’ work, she got a chance to build those technical chops, too. “It was super beneficial for me to be able to learn from other people’s work and give constructive feedback, which is a skill that I’m always trying to build,” she said.

Jenna Rivera ’23, who’s in a grad program working towards an M.Ed. in Special Education, said contributing to the book helped her feel empowered.

“Reading and writing were always my worst subjects in school,” she said. Though revising her senior thesis, which examined dance and movement therapy for children with developmental disabilities, into a publishable book chapter was challenging, she thrived under Dr. Silton’s guidance. In the end, “the experience gave me confidence and not only taught me more about my topic, but how to create professional quality work,” Rivera said.

“Dr. Silton genuinely cares about each student and actively pushes for their success both in and out of the classroom,” she added. “I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for Dr. Silton.”

Published: September 12, 2023