By Alex Soare:
No matter what your children are interested in or where their natural abilities lie, it’s important for them to be creative thinkers. Although the word “creativity” often is associated solely with artistic pursuits, it’s clear now that being creative is a critical skill for every discipline and profession. When you get right down to it, creativity is the ability to come up with a new idea or way of approaching a challenge.
As creativity expert Ken Robinson said in an interview, “You can be creative in math, science, music, dance, cuisine, teaching, running a family, or engineering. Because creativity is a process of having original ideas that have value.”
Given the emphasis on standardized tests in schools these days, it’s crucial that parents play their part in encouraging and developing creativity in their children at home. Here are a few ways that you can do just that.
It’s critical for kids to have handy the materials that allow them to be creative. And that doesn’t mean just crayons and paper, although those are pretty good tools. You don’t have to spend a fortune or have an expansive playroom to do this. These are a few items that help children channel their creative spirit:
- Dress-up costumes
- Simple instruments
- Art supplies in different mediums
- Play dough
- Building blocks
- A camera
While it’s important to teach them how to use these materials properly, try not to dictate how they use them. Beyond eating it or stuffing it into the couch, is there really a wrong way to play with play dough? Everything should be game as long as they’re expressing their own ideas, thoughts and feelings.
- Let Them Make Mistakes
It’s tempting, as parents, to micro-manage your kids’ actions to help them avoid making mistakes. It’s not because you’re a perfectionist; it’s because you don’t want to see them experience failure. But mistakes and failure are actually a crucial and necessary part of the creative process. And one of the most defining characteristics of creative people is the ability to persevere when something doesn’t work.
So, when you see your child trying something that you know won’t work, instead of interrupting, let them see it through for themselves and learn from the experience. If they end up a little frustrated, say something like “That’s okay. Let’s try it a different way. Do you have any ideas?” Exploring different strategies and methods through trial and error is an important step to success in nearly any pursuit, so the earlier they learn it, the better.
While it’s natural to praise what your kids make, you shouldn’t neglect to praise them on the mere participation in the activity. For example, if your children show you a picture they drew, after you tell them that it’s a very pretty picture, you can also talk about the process. Did they enjoy creating it? What were they thinking about when they were drawing? What’s their favorite part of the picture?
Creative thinking is all about process — when it’s done right, however, that process leads to great products. But if children are taught that the only thing that matters is the outcome, they’ll be less likely to value the creative process that gets them there.
- Let Them Find Their Own Way
When teaching kids how to do things, we tend to explicitly instruct them in every step. In some cases, that’s necessary. But whenever possible, allow your children to discover through exploration. Worst case scenario? They make a safe mistake that leads them to try another way. Best case scenario? They discover the right way on their own or even stumble across a new way that works.
Whatever happens, the learning that happens this way is more valuable and lasting. Plus, it will give them confidence from having accomplished the task on their own. When you say things like, “That’s not the right way,” it stifles children’s imaginations and willingness to express their own ideas.
- Play Pretend
With the increasing use of electronic devices, many little ones don’t play old-fashioned pretend games the way we did so often during childhood. And while some computer games and apps have educational and creative value, kids should be encouraged to use their imagination in play.
Try to spark imaginative game-playing by initiating role-playing like playing house, school, shop owner, veterinarian, etc. Even something as simple as asking children to imagine that the bathtub is an ocean full of fish or asking questions like “What do you think would happen if the floor was made of Jello?” can inspire innovative thinking.
As you can see, creativity is not just about raising little artists. These strategies help kids practice divergent ways of thinking and problem solving, skills that will serve them well as they grow and develop their interests, whatever those may be.
Alex Soare is the founder of ArtRise, an online community and social networking site created just for working artists. As a professional opera singer, Alex sought to create a site that would allow professional creatives to better collaborate and network with their peers around the world. To learn more, check out www.artRise.com today!