Creativity. Not solely artistic in nature – it is a desirable attribute responsible for contributing much good to the world. Simply put, it is the ability to make new things or think new ideas. It is the source of independent thought. It is the major contributor to inventions, beauty and new approaches in medicine. Businesses desire creativity and find it necessary for effective leadership, personal development and problem solving. While it is present at birth and purest in the young years, it must be nurtured or it will begin to drift away. If neglected, creative thought drops dramatically after the third grade, which prompts the question – what can we do to foster it?
My generation grew up with TV, Atari and Nintendo… but we also had parents who generally believed in sending us outside until dark. We wandered, phone-less and sometimes aimless, coming up with games to play and hideouts to build. We begged to ride bikes to the nearest convenience store, hiding from passing cars like we were secret agents on a mission. We had time, and we used much of it to imagine, explore and discover.
It’s no secret that our children, however, are growing up with more obstacles hindering their creative growth. There are countless planned events and an abundance of electronics to turn to the moment things get quiet. Phones to look at, tablets to entertain, and YouTube videos to watch. But beyond that, our generation (in general) seems to feel an increased obligation to busy our children with our own presence. We feel the hurried nature of our world and deeply desire to interact as much as we can. We tend to narrate their actions, praise their movements, and answer their needs with instruction, while potentially interrupting their ability to sort things out. When over-done and out of balance, our presence can become an added distraction and unintentional roadblock to creativity.
Given this, what does it look like to give our kids the means to develop creativity? In researching the subject, this is the gist of what I found:
- Draw the line on noise. This means media or distractions that allow the brain to simply stop thinking on its own. Windows of time when screens are not an option are necessary for creative thought to have the space to grow.
- Expose children to art and music. Witnessing the creativity and free-thinking style of others simply inspires originality within ourselves.
- Engage in free play. If playing together, set a window of time to follow their lead and just go with it. Experiment, act like bunnies, or stop to inspect a beetle for as long as they desire to observe.
- Supply blocks and toys with no concrete instructions. If your children gravitate towards art, have supplies available which can be used in making designs, sculptures or pictures with no rules or expectations.
- Allow the space for silly ideas and stories.
- Supply the means for adventure. Whether this is a hike in the mountains or time in your backyard “jungle”, allow them the ability to be researchers, explorers and the protagonist in their own imaginary story.
- Encourage individuality. Let them make their own choices whenever possible. Allow them the freedom to be who they are, like what they like, and be proud of themselves.
- Take time for solitude and self-reliance.
This last one is a biggie. Kids will find their own unique routes to creativity based on their interests, and it is solitude, specifically, that allows them the space to process. The ability to wonder and brainstorm without interruption – without parents peeking in and narrating their every move, and without consistent praise for their progress. Solitude provides the ability to clear the mind of busyness and look at something greater.
In recent years, upon realizing our household was busy and solitude had become rare, I began to be more intentional about providing it. I took a look at my parents’ generation and did what they did. I let my kids get bored. For certain windows of time, I resisted the urge to feel guilty and fill the void. I resisted the temptation to step in to direct, and I let them cry and complain. They had to find something to do, and I wasn’t going to tell them what. I will be honest, the complaints seemed to last forever. But, miraculously, when I actually clocked it, it was an overall average of eight minutes before they would figure it out. Sometimes together, sometimes apart, but the activities they chose were always fascinating. Careful not to interrupt their flow, I secretly observed as they used boxes as crates for sick stuffed animals, and made the rounds to check temperatures and give fresh food. They made cushions into forts where they each had their own bedrooms and amenities. They built a teepee out of sticks and brainstormed how to secure the top. My oldest has developed new games, and worked diligently at his desk making and laminating cards. My middle son has spent hours digging for worms and distributing them into potted vegetables so they would help fertilize the soil. All these beautiful thinking and experimenting moments created through a little self-direction and solitude.
But within the solitude and other fostering tips, it must also be stressed that creative growth is in the process and not the product. It is the active effort of our children that we, the parents, should encourage. Whatever they do, or create, does not have to fit in a certain mold or look like anything at all. It doesn’t have to work, and they may never finish. No matter what the outcome, every moment of the creative process is teaching them – stretching their brains to think and grow. Furthermore, children learn to work out their feelings in the process, allowing them to sort emotions and make more sense of things. They get to know themselves and their preferences. It is the struggle and the creative process, not the product, that aides them in their mental, social and emotional maturation to becoming self-motivated and free-thinking adults.
In our noisy and structured modern world, we understandably face more challenges when it comes to fostering creativity in our children, and we must put in effort to create the opportunities. It is up to us to open the time, quiet the electronics, have available the supplies and allow the adventures. It is up to us to provide the space for solitude and self-direction. We will be the ones to expose them to art, laugh with them and allow for spontaneity. And the creativity they develop, along the paths of their own interests and individuality, will serve them well throughout the remainder of their lives. But beyond the future benefits, there is much joy found in the years of forts, goopy concoctions, unicorns and bug farms. It is through these years of exploration, discovery and adventure that creativity promises, if nothing else, to give the gift of a memorable childhood.