Creativity — using our imagination to come up with ideas or make something new — is one of the most valuable qualities human beings can have. Innovative thinking will serve our kids well in whatever endeavors they choose, and the more we encourage creative activity during their formative years, the more comfortable and confident they’ll feel in sharing their ideas with others.
We generally don’t have to teach kids to be creative. Most children seem to have a natural instinct for it. If we provide them the tools and get out of the way, young kids will create to their heart’s content. But eventually some things do tend to get in the way — fear, time, passive entertainment, to name a few — which is where we as parents step in.
We can help create an environment for our kids that fuels creative thinking. Here are some ways to help nurture a vibrant sense of creativity in your home:
1. Invest in open-ended toys.
I wish I could rid the world of every toy that just does one thing. Most of the time, those kinds of toys get used a few times and then ditched. Open-ended toys, on the other hand, get used for years and can be passed down for generations. Blocks, building sets, toy animals — anything that can be used in multiple ways for multiple purposes will encourage imaginative play and creativity. We still have Legos that belonged to my husband when he was a kid. Open-ended toys are timeless and limitless in their possibilities.
2. Make sure supplies are easily accessible.
We have a big cabinet filled with arts-and-crafts supplies that the kids can access any time, along with large trays for keeping smaller work contained. You don’t have to have a huge budget for supplies though — my kids have made some awesome things with old boxes, empty paper towel rolls, and scrap paper. Give your kids some scissors, duct tape, and markers, and tell them to raid the recycling bin. You’d be amazed at the rocket ships that can be created from a box and a marker.
3. Give them free time and space.
There’s something to be said for structured creative endeavors such as dance or art classes. Building skills in a methodical way is valuable, but we shouldn’t be so eager to help our kids develop skills that we neglect to give them time and space to freely explore their imaginations. Creativity needs room to breathe.
4. Ask questions about their creations.
Kids have their own thought processes, and we can’t always see what they are thinking just by looking at something they’ve made. Having them articulate their process and the ideas behind what they were going for helps you and them understand how they think. Asking questions also shows greater interest in what they’re doing than a simple, “Wow, that’s cool!”
5. Celebrate ideas and brainstorming.
Creativity is about more than just artistic expression. People can be creative with math, science, computer coding, and every other endeavor. Being creative means coming up with a new idea or putting things together in a way that hasn’t been done before. We can encourage that kind of ingenuity and creative thinking by sharing and building on ideas with our kids in different aspects of life. Hold family brainstorming sessions and encourage everyone’s participation. Help kids see that sharing ideas isn’t scary.
6. Let them see you be creative.
Kids learn more from what you do than what you say, and if you are setting the example of exploring your creativity, kids will internalize that example. Let them see you try something new and experiment until you figure out what works. Let them see you make mistakes and learn from them. Let them see you enjoy your own creative process. Let them see what it looks like to wrangle your own fears or insecurities and let your imagination roam freely.
7. Offer encouraging feedback, not criticism.
Sure, kids will need to learn to deal with criticism, but not from their parents and not about something they’ve created. Our role here is cheerleader, not judge. Kids’ creations are not always stellar, but if they’ve put time and effort into something, and if they’re proud of it, that should be honored. “Look at that! You worked really hard on that! How wonderful!” is one way of complimenting a child’s creation without critiquing the content. Always find something positive to say. Encouragement is a much better teacher than criticism.
Fostering a creative environment in your home is one way to instill in your kids the skills and mindsets that will carry them into a rich and fulfilling future. It can also make your home life more fun. No matter what our age or stage in life, we can all benefit from the joy and wonder of exploring our imaginations on a regular basis.