Can we inspire creativity in our kids?

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I’ll be spending the week with both my kids. I’m sitting at the airport on my way there and I was reading about creativity and kids. I’m reflecting back on how I raised my children and if I inspired any creativity.

I’ve always considered creativity to be an innate talent, but according to science it’s a skill that can be fostered. As parents, we can promote the creative spirit by allowing space and time for creativity. That means allowing messes, free time–and getting out of the way.  

I’d let my kids have a tub of large chalk and draw all over our patio. It drove my husband crazy to come home from work and see our kids and their friends drawing all over our back yard patio. It hosed off, though. Also, I’d buy a roll of butcher paper and let them paint or draw across the patio, hoping they’d keep it on the paper.  

At the beach, they’d build villages with drip castles and loved to play chef at a restaurant. I’d patiently taste each creation (pile of wet sand) and tell them how delicious it was.  

I remember taking my kids to a photographer for Christmas pictures. I had them all dressed up in their matching red and green Gymboree outfits. My daughter was a baby and my son three. My son moved all the chairs and benches into two rows all facing forward. We asked him what he was doing and he explained he was building an airplane (the two lines of furniture were the seats and aisle.) The photographer was extremely patient as I tried to put everything back in it’s place.

My mom was big on creativity and she allowed us to destroy our living room with forts of card tables and sheets, dig to China and build a pond for polliwogs in the back yard. I remember making dozens of puppets with Woolite bottles as the heads and swatches of fabric for the clothing. Mom did get annoyed with me for chopping out a chunk of fabric from the center of all the yardage of fabric in her sewing room!  

What exactly is creativity? Here’s a definition:  

  1. the use of the imagination or original ideas, especially in the production of an artistic work. “firms are keen to encourage creativity”

Here’s an excerpt from Greater Good Magazine 7 Ways to Foster Creativity in Your Kids by Christine Carter:    

Many people assume that creativity is an inborn talent that their kids either do or do not have: just as all children are not equally intelligent, all children are not equally creative. But actually, creativity is more skill than inborn talent, and it is a skill parents can help their kids develop.

Because it is a key to success in nearly everything we do, creativity is a key component of health and happiness and a core skill to practice with kids. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression—it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence. Creative people are more flexible and better problem solvers, which makes them more able to adapt to technological advances and deal with change—as well as take advantage of new opportunities.

Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. Toy and entertainment companies feed kids an endless stream of prefab characters, images, props and plot-lines that allow children to put their imaginations to rest. Children no longer need to imagine a stick is a sword in a game or story they’ve imagined: they can play Star Wars with a specific light-saber in costumes designed for the specific role they are playing.

Carter has a bunch of tips of things we can do to promote creativity that includes giving  kids space and resources for creative play. Also she says it’s important to allow our kids to make mistakes and fail. If they’re afraid of failure their creativity will be stifled. Limiting screen and TV time will give kids a chance for art and reading. Another bit of advice is to not tell our kids what to do. For example, I made my daughter take piano lessons for years against her will. She would have been much better off following her own passions like making mosaics and painting. For years she made gifts for her friends by getting a few supplies from Michaels and using her creativity. For a complete list of her tips, read the article here

I think a lot of the tips for creativity can work for us, too. We need to be less busy, not worry about a mess, give ourselves space and time.

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What are some of your children’s favorite creative things to do? How did you inspire creativity in your kids and how do you find it in your lives?

Christine Carter, Ph.D. is a Senior Fellow at the Greater Good Science Center. She is the author of The New Adolescence: Raising Happy and Successful Teens in an Age of Anxiety and Distraction (BenBella, 2020), The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less (Ballantine Books, 2015), and Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents (Random House, 2010). A former director of the GGSC, she served for many years as author of its parenting blog, Raising Happiness. Find out more about Christine here.

9 thoughts on “Can we inspire creativity in our kids?

  1. My daughter is a writer. She edits/writes for the entertainment section of her college newspaper and edits/writes for her school literary journal. When she was a kid we went to museums that had things specifically for kids. We had a cabinet full of art supplies. We have always cooked together as well. I’ve always fostered a life filled with art and culture and creativity

    • That sounds much like what I did too. My son was the editor of his university’s literary journal and my daughter still paints cards for friends or makes other gifts. When we moved, I had to go through the art cabinet.

      • My daughter is less artistically inclined, so luckily I got rid of the cabinet pre high school. Every now and then she sees some internet fad but she just gets the material

      • Luckily, my daughters middle school science fair projects were heavy on research and light on materials

  2. I remember of spending one whole afternoon filming a Western Bank Robbery. My son still has the “Movie!” My Dawta started singing before she was born, and is now lead singer in a band in Seattle. I had hundreds of pictures stuck on my refrigerator over the years. Crayons, paper and blunt nosed scissors were available. Any parent that stunts that creativity in favor of neatness misses out on all the fun of having kids. And the kids lose more than we ever will know.

  3. Both of my daughters are artistic in their own ways, whether it’s through makeup, cosplay, singing, or art. When they were little, I always had craft activities I would find in magazines or later, on Pinterest and I would fill drawers with art supplies. They both preferred to draw, color, paint, and do crafts over playing with toys or watching television. I mean they loved tv and toys, but crafts were their overall favorite things to do.

    • That’s wonderful! My daughter loved crafts too over TV or reading. I think it’s so important to give them the time to explore their creativity. My kids were pretty over scheduled with swimming because that’s the nature of the sport. Several hours six days a week!

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