Creativity. It’s something we all want. We see flashes of it in our spouse, in our coworkers, in the friend who spends twenty minutes on Pinterest and actually makes something. And we hope, in ourselves.
Creativity is originality of thought. It’s enthusiasm. It’s optimism. It’s everything we want our kids to be, and much more.
The question is: Can we help inspire creativity in our children from the get-go? Is there any sure-fire way to help our kids grow into the kind of creative problemsolvers we all like to be around? Of course not. But that shouldn’t stop us from trying.
1. Promote imaginative play.
When it comes to imaginative play, a dress-up box is a good place to start. Here’s what we have in ours: the receiver from an old phone, the blue shoes I wore in my best friend’s wedding, microphones, gloves and hats from Goodwill, dresses from junior high dances, an old brief case. Pieces and parts from Halloween costumes are also a welcome addition. Pick these up at discount prices after the holiday.
Generally, when planting the seeds for creative play, think about what your kids like. Birthday parties, for example. Get things started with a pack of hats or cheap party favors from a dollar store. There are also happy birthday signs they can make, a menu to plan, games to figure out, and of course, gifts to wrap. Guests are usually the furry kind with paws and/or big ears.
Playing restaurant is also a favorite, with something for everyone to do – cooking, serving, and eating. My kids have played games of school, hospital, house, and store. There’s even a version of roadside emergency that sounded a lot like what happened when we ran out of gas a while ago. You can jump-start any of these creative scenarios by leaving the right prop or costume on your child’s bed.
2. Encourage them to show their stuff.
Want to inspire creativity in your kids? Try these four words: How about a show?
At our house, the family room or driveway is usually center-stage. Shows come in all shapes and sizes – with the final production depending on average age level of the cast. I’ll be the first one to tell you that it took a few years for any evidence of planning, let alone choreography, to reveal itself.
As with any special event, getting ready for the show is the best part. There are costumes to consider, and sets and backgrounds, too. For a while, everyone wanted to be in charge of lighting and sound (a.k.a. flashlight and drums). Ticket production is always a coveted task, as is ticket-taking and ushering.
If you’re lucky, most of this preparation will take place as independent play. But when it’s show time, mom or dad will probably need to take a front row seat.
One way to encourage this kind of performing in your kids is to take them to the theater. Productions featuring kid-casts are especially inspiring. And these days, you can take in a live performance at a community theater, or middle or high school for about the price of a movie ticket.
3. Keep the craft supplies easy-access.
I can’t remember who first told me to store arts and crafts supplies in an accessible area, but I do remember thinking she was nuts. Then I discovered the splat mat. Our splat mat of choice is an old shower curtain. Whenever glue, markers, glitter, or any kind of Play-Doh is involved, the splat mat comes out. My kids know that.
I try to keep major projects to an established area, usually the kitchen table or the floor. Supplies are stored in easy to carry bins and totes so clean-up is easier on them.
4. Value art.
Supplies are important, but I believe this next part is crucial: Make sure your kids know that you value their creations.
Around here, every holiday worth celebrating is celebrated with a homemade card from my kids. If it’s a formal occasion, like a wedding, it might warrant pre-cut paper to fit whatever envelope we have on hand, but that’s as far as I go. They see their card service as a valuable contribution. I see it as another creative endeavor, and a money-saver, too!
Don’t get me wrong. I also think it’s important to have kids create art for art’s sake. We have a magnetic wall covered with artwork. But seeing art in action inspires more art. Have your kids make puppets, signs, bedroom decor, cards, holiday decorations, gifts, and more.
5. Read to, and with, your kids.
Good books get kids thinking, dreaming, and using their imaginations to enhance what they’re hearing. The best writers (and there are so many for kids!) Help their readers and listeners create pictures in their minds with their words. Reading aloud to kids, even after they are completely confident readers, continues to promote this wonderful creative connection.
I recommend read-aloud titles with chapters that are on the short side. Make a pledge to tackle a chapter a night before bed with your kids. If you’re new to this arena, start with most anything by legendary children’s author Roald Dahl and you and your kids will be hooked.
6. Tune in to the power of music.
We all know the life span of the typical toy. Between level of interest and quality of craftsmanship, we’re lucky if the next big thing makes it through the next year.
Although our preschool toys are long gone, the box of musical instruments remains. Tambourines, rhythm sticks, xylophones, clickers, clackers, snappers. Instruments of all kinds (plus microphones for vocalists), both store-bought and kid-made, have a home in that box. Parades form daily. Shows after all, almost always require instruments. (See number two.)
Music is also a great substitute for what I call the ultimate creativity suck – television. Whether it’s playing strictly for background effect or for primary enjoyment, music, rather than TV, is much more likely to lead to other creative endeavors.
7. Turn off the TV.
No article on creativity would be complete without that statement. Including it feels hypocritical, somehow, because my kids do watch television. But not a lot, and we try to make a very determined effort to pick out one show – okay, maybe two – that they really want to see. Consequently, the television doesn’t get turned on unless a program is on that someone wants to watch. Music, on the other hand, can be heard almost constantly at our house.
Willy Wonka (with Roald Dahl’s help) had this to say about TV: “I suppose it’s all right in small doses, but children never seem to be able to take it in small doses. They want to sit there all day long, staring and staring at the screen…”
So when it comes to TV and screen time, much like medicine, it’s up to parents to deliver the dosage. If you’d like Mr. Dahl’s real opinion on the dangers of television, read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory aloud with your kids and hear what the Oompa-Loompas had to say about it.
In the meantime, keep your kids creative wheels in motion. Picasso said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” I’m thinking it’s our job to help them.