by Linda Gilden
Many people think teaching children to be creative means nothing more than providing creative materials for them—paper, paint, pencils, crayons, and other “artsy” things. But teaching children to be creative reaches much farther. Materials are not the only things needed to develop creativity. Children need the freedom to explore and create. Guiding a child to think creatively and develop an active and positive imagination can improve self-image, boost confidence, and give a head start on success in adulthood.
Creativity need not be limited to arts and crafts. When applied to every area of life and at any age, creativity encourages children to think critically and gives them confidence in making decisions.
Many times you hear someone say, “I am not very creative.” But was that always the case? Most children are naturally creative and curious.
Asking questions prompts creativity. When a child is building a house from blocks, someone must ask the questions, “What are you building?” “What else could it be?” “How else could you go about it?”
“When children think creatively, they look beyond what is in front of them to see what could be. They explore from many different angles and engage all their senses,” says Patricia Dischler, author of Teaching the Three C’s: Creativity, Curiosity, and Courtesy (Corwin, 2010). “This creative exploration can lead to successful problem solving, a broader understanding of topics taught, and an appreciation for the world they live in.”
Have you ever seen a toddler in the middle of a Christmas celebration? The wrapping paper is often more exciting than the gift! Young children sit in the middle of the floor crackling paper and twirling discarded ribbon. Did anyone suggest that would be fun? Of course not. Even at a very young age, children use their imaginations to entertain themselves.
Creative play skills are the precursor to creative thinking and even the very youngest child can respond to encouragement to be creative. Creativity encouraged in the toddler years can blossom into confident living in later years.
Two-year-old Addi loves applause and being the center of attention.
Says her grandmother, “Not long ago Addi walked into the house, picked up my cane, and began to sing into the handle.”
Did anyone suggest to Addi the cane would make an excellent microphone? No, she picked it up and let her vivid imagination take over.
Similarly, Mae, also two, went to visit her aunt who had knee surgery. Seeing Aunt Tee on crutches, she immediately went to the umbrella stand. While everyone watched and wondered, Mae chose two small umbrellas, put one handle under each arm, and walked around the room imitating Aunt Tee.
Her mom could have fussed at Mae for getting the umbrellas out in the house and reminded her it never rains inside. Instead, she let Mae explore, create, and imagine herself in Aunt Tee’s predicament.
Toddlers need lots of opportunities to develop fine motor skills. Art projects such as coloring and clay unleash imagination and help with coordination.
Elyse loves to color, but she stops coloring to line up the crayons. As she lines them across the table, she sorts them by color. Rather than require Elyse to finish her picture, her dad applauds her efforts and encourages her by handing crayons to complete her crayon “train.”
Creativity not only increases dexterity, confidence, and self-esteem, it fosters positive social skills as well. Creative children are more adaptable and learn to look at situations in a different way.
Exposing your children to new places, people, and experiences will stimulate curiosity and creativity.
Several years ago we traveled to a city full of museums and old churches. We took advantage of the tours available.
In one old church the guide related intriguing stories in every section of the building. She told stories behind the art, the stonework, and the church itself.
When we came back to our hotel, the four children, ages 6 through 12, spent the evening reenacting the stories. Their drama not only allowed them hours of play, but also reinforced the history learned that day.
Sometimes creativity relies heavily on imagination. Four-year-old Trey received a train set for Christmas. It remained assembled in the playroom all year long.
Trey’s uncle was playing with him and Trey had become bored with the trains. Uncle Doug grabbed a nearby basketball and hollered, “Boulder coming down from the mountain!”
As Doug rolled the basketball toward the moving train, Trey squealed and clapped. Doug had encouraged Trey to see the ball as something different and incorporate it into his creative play.
A creative imagination can take an ordinary object and make something useful out of it. One night Rose walked into her 8-year-old’s bedroom. A string went to different parts of the room. Rose asked Jeff, “What is all this string for?”
Jeff, already in his bed, replied, “Just watch.” He reached up to a string draped over his headboard and pulled on it. The overhead light immediately went out.
“Pretty cool,” Rose said, shaking her head in disbelief.
Jeff has always wanted to find new ways of doing things. Once he took a skateboard apart knowing he could figure out how to mount a motor on it when putting it back together. He thought he could exert less energy when he rode it!
Situations like the skateboard always require choices. Mom has to decide to let the child be creative. Is the skateboard more important than the child’s desire to explore and create? Then the child has to decide he doesn’t want the skateboard in its original form anymore. Mom may have to say, “It is fine for you to take your skateboard apart. Just remember without the wheels you don’t have a skateboard!”
If children have been encouraged to think creatively and grow their imaginations, by the time they are teenagers, they will automatically look at situations creatively.
During his early teen years Edward and his friends were big Star Wars fans. They collected figures, watched movies, and read books. Edward and several of his friends had been encouraged to think creatively. This group of boys decided to make a movie with their Star Wars figures as the main characters. Staged on a card table at Edward’s house, the young teenagers filled hours enjoying the fruits of their creative thinking.
Steve’s dad found a unique way to stimulate the thinking of Steve and his lunch buddies. Every day when Steve opened his lunch he found food and a story note. On Monday, there was the beginning of the story. Tuesday, the story progressed a little more. Each day after reading the note to his “lunch bunch,” Steve and his friends speculated about what was going to happen next. Steve’s dad creatively steered the school lunch conversation into a very positive direction. These teenage boys thought creatively and asked the “What if?” question and applied it to every story.
School is not Virginia’s passion but she is extremely creative. When her high school English teacher assigned a book report, she groaned. She didn’t mind reading the book, but a formal book report seemed downright boring.
“The book we were reading was Gulliver’s Travels. I went to my teacher and asked her if I could do something different than write a book report,” Virginia says. “She wanted to know what I had in mind.”
“I told her I’d like to do a newsletter,” said Virginia. “Something Gulliver might have sent to the folks back home.”
The teacher was very wise. She loved the idea, Virginia enjoyed producing a creative newsletter, and she received an A in the class.
Creative games are a great way to draw the whole family together.
While on vacation the Johnson family enjoyed story mealtimes. Once they said the blessing and began to eat, Mr. Johnson started a story. With just a few sentences, he set the stage for a story and stopped. Mrs. Johnson added a few more sentences then they went around the table.
Everyone participated and there were lots of funny looks, giggles, and family merriment.
The Grant family used their mealtimes to learn the books of the Bible. Mr. Grant started with Genesis, Mrs. Grant continued with Exodus, and so on until they got to Revelation. The next night someone else took Genesis. In the beginning they had to keep the Bible handy to be sure they were right, but it wasn’t long before everyone chimed in without a glance at the Bible.
Teaching creativity can seem like a daunting subject to parents. But learning to be creative can be fun and draw the family together as everyone gets involved.
Linda Gilden is a freelance writer in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Opportunities For Creativity
Car games—Play name that tune, rhyme-a-word, or make-a-pair.
Small broken appliances—Don’t throw them away! Save them for a curious child who may take the parts and invent something totally new.
Explore—Go for a walk, take time to pick up leaves, find a prize rock, or watch the ants work on their red dirt castle.
Provide a “Dress up Box” for drama.
Play music and encourage children to dance. Better yet, dance with them! Gather musical instruments (made from household items, of course) and form a family band.