Why is it important to encourage creativity in your children? As technology advances at light speed, the ability to think out of the box is becoming more crucial. Nowadays engineers, scientists, and creative thinkers have to predict what the future holds and what applications there might be for the technological advances that seem to lie in wait around every corner. Just being knowledgeable isn’t good enough anymore. We need to be creative and encourage creativity in our kids.
First, what is creativity? It’s the ability to take current information and make new connections. This differs from knowledge, which is the process by which we store information for future use. It is important for parents to understand that physical development and cognitive development do not occur at the same rate. While physical development progresses over a period of years, creativity peaks during childhood. As the parent of a young child, you are witnessing the most creative period of your child’s life!
According to Arlene F. Harder, MA, MFT, in her book Distinguish Between Your Child’s Needs and Wants, buying expensive toys to develop creativity in your child isn’t necessary. However, you do need to provide your children with a rich diversity of experience that encourages them to develop creativity in different areas. Creativity takes many forms—art, dance, music, writing—and exposing your children to each of these facets of the arts will help them learn where their special talents lie.
Here are a few tips for encouraging your child’s creativity:
• Ask open-ended questions. When your 2- or 3-year-old asks a question, resist the temptation to provide a direct answer. In many cases, your child has already developed her own theory so reply with an open-ended question, such as “What do you think is the best way?” or “Why do you think that happened?” Her answer may be right on target or be a theory based on some combination of her past experience Keep in mind that the logic of children may wander way off course, but this is to be appreciated and enjoyed as it provides you a wonderful window into their thinking process as they develop the cognitive skill of cause and effect.
• Encourage creative thinking. When you have time during the day, show your child an everyday object and ask how this could be used in different ways. For example, a cup can be used to drink milk, hold pennies, or be even act as a flower pot! This activity encourages your child to apply creative thinking to common objects and events in their daily lives.
• Read stories. Dr. Seuss’ Cat-in-the-Hat series is one of the most beloved children’s stories of all time. Who else but Dr. Seuss can make “green eggs and ham” sound like a delicious breakfast? The idea of green eggs and ham expanded into a sixty-page story teaches your child how to think outside the box and make connections to one central idea.
• Engage in dramatic play. Dramatic play provides an opportunity for your child to take internalized thoughts and act them out in social situations. For dramatic play between parents and children, ask your child to tell you a story and then act it out among family members. Expect that your child will take the director’s role and change the scenario as she watches her ideas come to life. Act out all new versions so your child can see how her different ideas play-out in the “real-world.”
• Make some music. All children love to make music with unusual items! For example, place some pennies in a empty soda can for home-made castanets. Alternatively, turn over some Tupperware for a fun drum set. Have the whole family join with each member playing a different instrument.
• Engage in art-based activities. Art activities are the classic means to develop creativity in children. The activity needs to focus on the process, not the product. Encourage your child to combine material in unique ways. The following are some ideas for children of different ages:
~ Provide a two-year-old with pre-cut shapes such as squares, rectangles, and triangles made out of multi-colored construction paper which she can the glue together an a large piece of cardboard.
~ Provide a three-year-old with a mound of cookie dough and embellish with raisins, Cheerios, marshmallows, and jellybeans.
~ Provide a four-year-old with different color ribbon to create flags or banners.
~ Give a five-year-old a collection of pre-cut magazine picture and have him glue the pictures together into a montage.
Each of these activities focuses on the process of creating, rather than the materials used to create. This is an important distinction because what a child learns about her abilities while exploring and engaging in creative activity is an invaluable learning tool.
Daniela Baker is a mother of two, who believes in the power of imaginative play. She blogs at the consumer credit education website CreditDonkey.