Unlike driving a car, fishing for rainbow trout, or getting married, there is no license required to be a parent. We may read bestselling books (How to Be the Perfect Parent and Raise Perfect Children Who Grow Up to Become Perfect Adults), but for the most part, we fly by the seat of our pants and learn while on the job. Such is the nature of parenting.
When it comes to raising creative kids (a goal of many parents), many child psychologists agree that the home environment is critical to the development of creativity. What we do as parents establishes a necessary foundation for a creative lifestyle. Below are 6 simple practices you can easily incorporate into family activities—practices that can positively impact your children’s creative spirit. (Check out more tips here!)
Read a book to your children every day. Expose them to imaginative stories, science fiction, mysteries, space stories, fantasy, myths and legends. Give them opportunities to let their imaginations soar and their creative impulses to take flight. Check with their teacher or the local public librarian for recommended titles and authors. Make books regular presents for birthdays and other celebrations. It is from books that children get some of their initial introductions to imagination, innovation, and creativity. By making reading a regular part of their growth and development, you are helping to cement the value of creativity as an expectation rather than as a rarity. Reading to your children (even when they’re “older”) opens up brand new worlds and brand new possibilities. It provides a firm foundation upon which projects and challenges (encountered as adults) can be built. The biographies of many creative individuals are filled with stories of how books (and being read to from those books) were instrumental in the discoveries and inventions they made later in their lives. Read a book; create a genius!
Don’t flood your home with lots of expensive and “educational” playthings. The simple fact is that most toys labeled as “educational” seldom are. That’s just a come-on to get you to purchase them. For the most part, they are used once or twice and then quickly forgotten. The best toys are the simplest. My three recommendations: a large empty cardboard box, a collection of wooden blocks, and an old sheet. Give them to your child and watch their imaginations run wild.
In the same vein, invite your children to invent their own toys. What could they create with a several blocks of wood, a bucket of sand, a small shovel, and a hose? When kids have opportunities to create their own playthings, their creative spirit is both
enhanced and celebrated. In short, don’t always buy toys, invite children to create toys.
A recent study in England, commissioned by the National Trust, found that today’s children spend half the time playing outside than their parents did. For many children, playtime is that part of the day when they’re sprawled out on their bed playing games on their iPad or iPhone. Regular and sustained opportunities for physical play is critical to creative development and strong imaginations. Play allows children to invent, create, and innovate. Imaginary characters are developed, innovative rules are constructed, make-believe surroundings are invented, and pretend friends are conceived.
Equally important: resist the current movement to reduce or eliminate recess in your child’s elementary school. The consequences of a school day with no recess will have lasting effects on their creativity for years to come. As has been proven in study after study, a day without play can have serious repercussions for children’s evolving sense of creativity both now and well into the future.
According to a 2016 report by Common Sense Media, kids ages 2-5 spend 32 hours a week in front of a screen (TV, computer, iPad, cell phone) and kids 8-12 spend approximately six hours per day in front of a screen or monitor. For the most part, all the images children see on a screen are artificially created by others. In short, children often get the subtle message that creativity is something that is the province of adults (i.e. those who create all those screen images). Children need more opportunities to initiate their own unique imaginations. One of the best presents parents can share with their children is more crayons and other art supplies and less on-screen time. More time creating and less time watching on-screen productions establishes a solid foundation for creativity to prosper.
Be aware of how you respond to your child’s academic work. Comments such as “You’re so smart” and “Why didn’t you get an A?” actually depress a child’s future achievement. They also tend to foster a more external locus of control, which, in the long run, will have consequences in their professional lives. Instead, invite your children to self-assess: “How do you think you did on that math test?” “What is causing you the most difficulty in Chemistry? How might you meet that challenge?” When children are offered opportunities to self-assess they develop the confidence to proffer their own thoughts and ideas—a good first step to a creative life.
Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund, once said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” In short, in order to be good at something we need positive role models in our lives. Without those models, we are often unsure of what it takes to be competent and successful in one’s chosen field. Young girls, for example, need to see female scientists in action if they wish to become a scientist, too. Young baseball players need to see professional baseball players in action if they are ever to achieve success in baseball. A young musician needs to see trained and dedicated musicians in action to get a sense of what it takes to be a competent musician. The same holds true if we want our children to be creative throughout their lives: we need to provide them with multiple and sustained opportunities to see creative people in action.
In short, take your child to an art gallery, a musical concert, a woodworking exhibit, or a tap dance recital to see what creative people do or create. Provide opportunities for your children to talk with creative people: carpenters, landscape architects, commercial artists, professional authors, glass blowers, guitar players, weavers, craftspeople, or even the next-door neighbor who knits caps for newborns at the local hospital. Offering your child numerous opportunities to view and discuss creative endeavors is a powerful stimulant for their own creative development.
Anthony D. Fredericks, Ed.D. is the author of From Fizzle to Sizzle: The Hidden Forces Crushing Your Creativity and How You Can Overcome Them from which this article is excerpted.
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