Most of us would agree that we want our kids to be creative. Finding time for that creativity, however, can sometimes be a challenge. It’s all too easy to get bogged down in the rut of school, chores, sports, and so on.
I’m an amateur artist, and I struggle to find time for art. Doing creative stuff with my kids really helps satisfy that crafts-y itch, though, and I try to make it a priority. What I have found is that “creativity” doesn’t require a drop cloth or jars of paint. Creative thinking and creative living can happen anywhere, even driving in the car or waiting in line.
So what is “creativity”?
Creativity isn’t always about making art. It’s about thinking in new ways, relishing difference, using imagination. When we play creatively with our kids, we encourage them to think creatively. When we expose them to new ideas, new textures, new tastes, and new experiences, we help them broaden their world.
Some Tips for Encouraging Creative Play:
- Give kids ample opportunities to play with open-ended toys.
These are toys that encourage imaginative play because play is directed by the child. Blocks, dress-up clothes, objects for pretend play, and toy vehicles are all good examples. Generally, these toys don’t require batteries.
- Seize opportunities for creativity.
For instance, my 6 year old and I will sometimes take turns making up a story as we wait for doctors’ appointments. When I was pregnant and not feeling well, we did a lot of imaginative play on the couch. Our couch was often a pirate ship or spaceship. Usually, he got so wrapped up in the game that he forgot about me!
- Let kids play with toys in unforeseen ways.
My son went through a machine building phase where he would use random parts of toys to create large “factories.” The toy crane was no longer in service as a crane, but as some crucial portion of the machine.
- Let there be messes.
Clutter can get on my nerves, so this one is hard for me, but sometimes it’s best just to let them be. The aforementioned “machines” and “factories,” for instance, were almost exclusively built right where they would block doorways. I always let him keep the factories up and running for a day or two before we cleaned up, even though I had to step over everything a hundred times.
- Limit “screen time.”
On a hard day, no one loves Elmo or the Nintendo DS more than I do. But, my kids tend to get sucked into screen stuff if I don’t limit it, so I keep an eye on how much time they spend playing video games or watching cartoons. In the summers, my 6 year old has to earn screen time through creative play or playing outdoors. The beauty of this plan is that he gets so into whatever creative thing he’s doing that he forgets about earning screen time.
- Get outside.
I live in a climate with long, cold winters, and I struggle with this a lot. By March, we all have cabin fever. Even now, with the temperatures in the 40s, the snow is still too deep for my toddler to move around in, so we are limited to playing on the driveway. But, when we can get outside, we do. We play games, of course, but the outdoors is inspirational all by itself. My son will spend hours up in his fort. Sometimes we wander around in the spring time and look for hopeful signs that warm weather is approaching. We have a sand box for digging and making volcanoes. We look for bugs, turtles, and frogs. Sticks make great toys, and rocks become crayons for drawing chalky marks on the cement.
- Make things.
Both my kids like to draw, and they do so almost daily. The toddler scribbles and occasionally eats crayons. My oldest draws strange robots and multi-headed creatures. Aside from that, though, we do the occasional project. My oldest and I have made bookmarks, books, and spaceships and robots out of old boxes and containers. My youngest likes fingerpainting and painting with a brush. If you don’t want to deal with the mess, the little ones can paint with water on an outside sidewalk.
- Read and write together.
Books have a lot of creative potential. Read together and imagine what will happen next. Write a sequel together. Design a book cover, or new illustration.
- Be resourceful. You don’t need expensive supplies. As I mentioned above, boxes are great tools for creativity. Our bookmarks were made from cereal boxes. Tin foil is a favorite supply, as are pieces of cereal and pasta for gluing. We’ve done a lot with yarn (think hair, spider webs, and hanging ornaments).
- Enroll in a class.
Although classes certainly aren’t necessary, there are some fun opportunities out there. I’m in an Abrakadoodle class with my toddler, and she loves it. It’s something different for her, and an outing for the two of us. Community centers often offer classes for children, and that’s a great place to start if you want a more structured creative experience, or just an opportunity to get more ideas.
Resources for Encouraging Creativity
Arts and Crafts Busy Book: 365 Activities by Trish Kuffner and Bruce Lansky
The Little Big Book for Moms: by Lena Tabori and Alice Wong
Snips and Snails and Walnut Whales: Nature Crafts for Children by Phyllis Fiarotta and Noel Fiarotta
Science Crafts for Kids: 50 Fantastic Things to Invent and Create: by Gwen Diehn and Terry Krautwurst
Kids Play: Igniting Children’s Creativity by Michele Cassou
Discovering Great Artists: Hands-On Art for Children in the Styles of the Great Masters by MaryAnn Kohl and Kim Solga
New World Kids: The Parents’ Guide to Creative Thinking by Susan Marcus and Susie Monday
Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun by Bobbi Conner
Creative Kids at Home: http://www.creativekidsathome.com/activities.shtml
Family Craft Ideas organized by age: http://familycrafts.about.com/od/craftprojectsbyage/Crafts_by_Age.htm
Disney Family Fun: http://familyfun.go.com/
Abrakadoodle blog: http://www.abrakadoodle.com/blog/
Walker Art Center Blog: Raising Creative Kids: http://blogs.walkerart.org/ecp/category/raising-creative-kids/
“Creative Play Helps Children Grow” : http://www.creativityinstitute.com/creativeplayhelpschildrengrow.aspx
PreSchool Rock: http://crafts.preschoolrock.com/
Creative Thinking: http://school.discoveryeducation.com/brainboosters/
BHG Kids Crafts: http://www.bhg.com/crafts/kids/
NPR Article, “Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=76838288
Unplug Your Kids: http://unplugyourkids.com/