Photo by Kevin Murphy.
Post by Carrie Lee
As toddlers begin to have some mastery over their environment, they discover the joy of creating. From the first time they draw a crayon over a piece of paper, or stack one block on top of another, they bring their unique perspective to what they create.
If creativity is in our genes, then creative people bear creative children, right? Although some children may be innately more creative than others, there are many ways to purposefully ignite and encourage that creativity and make it a part of everyday life.
Blocks are some of the first creative toys that children use. Whether they are wooden blocks, connecting blocks, or large cardboard boxes, children can use them to create buildings, streets, and bridges. Little architects can stack them high and spread them wide, creating different shapes, levels, and color patterns. When combined with toy people and cars, children can be encouraged to create an entire cityscape, complete with stories for each character. Be sure to provide more challenging building blocks as he or she grows, allowing for more detailed and intricate designs.
Creation is a messy business. Children love to create big, and with complete abandon. The more tools they have, the more likely they are to flex their creative muscles. Crayons, washable markers, finger paints, and play dough are all materials the pre-potty-trained set can enjoy with complete abandon. Pre-school children can do amazing things with a glue stick and scraps of cloth, construction paper, yarn, pipe cleaners, and craft sticks. Almost anything can be used for a craft project, including dried beans, cereal, dried pasta, leaves, or q-tips. Older children can be taught to work with more sophisticated materials to create mosaics and sculpture, and learn to quilt and knit. The key is to attend to what the children are doing and ask questions to encourage additional avenues of creativity.
Some of children’s most creative moments occur when there are no materials available to create with. In the car, at a doctor’s office, or at the DMV, a little encouragement to use their imagination can pass the time enjoyably. Make a simple observation. “That door is locked. I wonder where it leads.” Encourage a story, asking about details, and making suggestions. Another good lead is, “What would happen if…” The more outlandish the story becomes, the more fun it is. Children also enjoy discovering pictures in clouds and star patterns, even at a young age. Challenges are made to “see” what someone else sees in the same formation.
Nothing sparks the imagination like a good story. Books offer children the opportunity to make pictures in their mind, to travel to far off places, to explore history or a futuristic world on another planet. Even very young children enjoy a simple story, and will ask for familiar characters again and again. As they grow older encourage them to write stories of their own, complete with detailed illustrations. Children also love to pretend to be someone else, to create and participate in their own dramas. A well-stocked dress-up area is a must. Thrift stores and post-Halloween sales can provide a variety of items. Accessories such as hats, costume jewelry, scarves, and play shoes will add to the play. Dramatic play is also encouraged by trips to the theater and watching classic movies. Help your child identify the hero, the villain, and discuss how the story may have ended differently if different choices were made.
Studies have shown the positive effect that playing music has on the growth and development of the infant brain. Children are drawn to music. They will sing the same songs over and over whether they know the words or not. Play a lively tune, and they are likely to start dancing. Dance with them. Encourage them when they make up their own songs. Help them make instruments with coins, buttons, or beans in sealed plastic containers. Everything from a kazoo to a keyboard can allow them to experiment with melodies and rhythms. Allow them to form their own marching band or stage miniature performances.
The most practical way to develop creativity is to help your children solve problems. After the problem has been defined, help brainstorm possible solutions. Allow your child to come up with a wide range of solutions, even silly and ridiculous ones. Not only can it help diffuse a potentially stressful situation, it will help them to develop life skills. Ask them to imagine what would happen if they enacted each solution. How would they feel? Would the problem be solved? How would the other person feel? When the problem is fear or anxiety about an upcoming situation or performance, encourage the child to visualize the ideal outcome in great detail- every movement, every thought, every sensation, “practicing” in his or her mind.
Developing creativity is a lifelong endeavor. When adults become immersed in child’s play, new avenues of creativity spring forth, like fresh air through dusty halls. Next time you’re facing a blank computer screen or canvas, take some time to revert to childhood, use your imagination, and play. New ideas may be just around the next corner of the dress-up box.
Catch more of Carrie Lee’s writing at Wildflower Writes.