How to Encourage Creativity In Our Children
“Every child is an artist.” – Picasso
Many thought leaders (perhaps most famously the gorgeous Ken Robinson on whom I have a major parenting crush) have proclaimed creativity the literacy of our generation. With ever more human jobs being replaced by our mechanical cousins, some are honestly asking themselves: what can humans do that can’t be replaced by a machine? What language must we speak in order to thrive in our next evolution? And one answer they come up with is: creativity. Coming up with new ideas that have value, as Ken Robinson defines creativity, is a skill all of our children will need.via @ParentingJunkieTweet This
So what are some of the ways we can encourage, facilitate and grow creativity in our children? When I discussed this article with my mother, an artist and art teacher, she said: “You don’t encourage creativity. You step out of the way and let it happen.”
All children are creative naturally, as long as grown ups don’t coerce, criticize and judge them out of it. But we do, unfortunately, and research points to children losing their creative spark steadily over the years, particularly in mainstream schools.
How to Preserve Their Natural Creative Inclinations
- Open up the creative dialogue – Brainstorm together
Every day there are innumerable opportunities for creativity. How should we set the table? How might we rearrange the furniture? What should we wear today? What hairstyle? What shall we sing on our way? Creativity is not limited to the art, it’s a way of life. It’s a way of thinking. An open, embracing, allowing heart-space that offers fertile ground to new ideas. So create the kind of dynamic where thinking of ideas, brainstorming, and collaborating creatively is woven into the fabric of the home.Whenever there’s an opportunity, ask your children open ended questions that promote new ideas and problem solving:How do you think we should do this?
What ideas do you have?
What’s the best way, in your opinion? Why?
What else do you propose?
Is there another way?
How can we look at this another way?
How can we solve this problem?
What are some possibilities?
What do you see?
How would that work?
How else might we do it?
Children who are used to being asked these types of questions get the chance to flex their creative muscles. When there’s no right answer – only a myriad of interesting options – we get to use our brains to begin to decipher which way makes sense, feels good, or looks great. When there’s a problem we can solve in whichever manner we chose, then we can begin to search for different solutions than those that immediately meet the eyes.
- Embrace mistakes and failures
Everyone who’s ever had a breakthrough will tell you, it didn’t happen on the first try. There were countless ‘failures’ and ‘mistakes’ along the way, all of which were a necessary learning steps that culminated in finally creating something new and valuable. That’s par for the course of the creative process. So we need to start to cultivate a growth mindset… a mindset where we imagine ourselves as capable of improving, working hard and figuring things out.
Any mistake can be seen as a disaster (even spilt milk) or as a learning gold mine (‘now I can better estimate the distance between the carton and glass’). The truth is that we learn very little from our successes, but we can learn heaps from our mishaps, if we so choose.
So, when your toddlers blocks fall down, when your preschooler draws on the walls, when your elementary school child can’t stay on his rip-stick, or when your teenager doesn’t get accepted to the acting program, deliberately chose to analyze – with curiosity and detachment – “hmmm, what went wrong? What might you do different next time?” In fact, some parents go as far as to celebrate failures “Excellent! You have learned what didn’t work! Now on to the next failure!”
No shame, no blame, just intrigue.
Want a fantastic story book that teaches us to embrace failures? Try Rosie Revere Engineer.
- Open ended explorations
One of the detrimental effects of having children shuffled around from activity to activity, from class to class – and given orders, instructions and directions all day long – is that they don’t have the time to explore open-endedly. Although deemed one of the most beneficial past times for children, with positive outcomes in every arena (yes, including academia), unstructured playtime has all but become extinct in many children’s lives.
So too, has open ended materials – art supplies, simple blocks, dress up clothes and so on provide children with tools to manipulate and imagine into – activating their innate creative urges. Mother nature herself offers the ultimate of open ended toys… sticks, pebbles, water, trees, flowers, etc., offer our children an abundance of never ending options of how one might connect with and manipulate one’s environment.
So if we want our children to maintain their creative stance, we need to offer them an allowing space, open ended materials (or toys) and enough unstructured time to explore it.
That means zero direction from us on how they spend their time (they might be staring out the window) or on what they draw (their dinosaur might be an unrealistic purple) or on how they build their building (it might be unstable). All this so they can begin (or continue) to answer their inner calling of their own new and unique perspective, rather than meeting the exterior expectations for conformity.
- Focus on the passion and process (not achievement)
We parents take special satisfaction in our children’s success, their breakthroughs, their final, finished products. We tend to praise the finished, the finessed, the evaluated. Unfortunately, this joy is misplaced and damaging to our kids. When we focus on the recognizable (and color correct) rainbow painting, the game won, the A grade – we inhibit the very process (creative flow) that is more likely to produce these successes.
Focusing on achievements makes people (of all ages) more likely to stress over the final outcomes, and less likely to engage in the experimentation, exploration and risk taking involved in true creation. The fact is that true creativity can only thrive when failure and success are all but besides the point. The very act of participating in the creative process is the act that begets joy, growth and also, paradoxically, results.
- Don’t criticize or praise
Creativity can flourish only when evaluation is subdued. Imagine trying to write a novel with someone looking over your shoulder and offering their praise (“Yay! I love how your structured that sentence!”) or their critique (“That character isn’t really very believable. You should work on making him more realistic.”) as you wrote. Impossible, huh?
That’s how our children feel when they are in creative flow (building a tower, painting, playing) and we offer our constant evaluations and judgments (“I like how you…”).If we want to sanctify the creative space we need to respect the neutrality it commands. Creative energy demands neither positive, nor negative feedback, only to be honored as it is, without recommendation for modification.
Children deserve to create without the inhibiting burden of ‘pleasing’ us. Their creative process needs to be their own. It’s wonderful to encourage effort (“you’re really working hard on that”), to take note and reflect (“You’re making this one blue!”) or to join in celebration (“You did it!”). But we needn’t offer our personal judgments (“I love that beautiful horse!”) seeing as, frankly, they’re irrelevant.
I would love to hear which of these 5 domains is most relevant to you and your child, and why. Let me know in the comments below!