How To Inspire Creativity in Your Kids

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I’ve been reading about creativity in children and it made me reflect on how I raised my kids.  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. 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. 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:   noun

  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

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What are some of your children’s favorite creative things to do?

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.

Why boredom is good for kids

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My son came up with bug headbands for a birthday party made from pipe cleaners, styrofoam balls and lots of glue and glitter. The kids looked adorable. He also got to wear a birthday crown.

Do you remember being bored as a kid? I do. But it never lasted. I could go outside when we lived in town and go ask a neighbor to play. Or, I’d jump on my bike and ride around the block. We could run over to the house down the street that had an extra lot with a brown quarter horse named Snoopy. I’d climb on the fence to pet the white strip that ran down his nose. Most of the time I’d read, or play library and create library cards for all my books and arrange them by author on my bookshelves. Boredom just wasn’t a thing. Our mom was strict about TV and it wasn’t an option. She allowed two half-hour shows daily that she circled in the TV Guide — and they were usually on PBS.

These days, many kids never experience boredom because they lose themselves in a device like an iPhone or iPad. They don’t know what it’s like to have to use their imaginations and find something creative to do. I don’t think it’s helping them to be entertained externally all the time. I wrote about promoting a creative spirit in kids last week, here and here.

Without creativity and an imagination, our kids won’t be problem solvers or discover new ways of doing things. If your kids are bored, so what? It’s okay. Ignore the whining and let them figure it out.

 In the Sarasota Herald Tribune, parenting experts Jenni Stahlmann and Jody Hagaman wrote Allow your kids to embrace boredom

 Have you noticed that our generation of parents is terrified of letting our kids become bored? Their anxiety is what drives them to pack a boatload of amusement options when they leave the house.

A few years ago, a waiter at a restaurant in North Dakota told us about a trend in his community. One local mom had created a custom quilted bag for holding multiple tablets so that every member of the family could be distracted and amused while they waited for their meal. It was wildly popular, he said.

Not only is our society’s pervasive reliance on amusement killing conversation and opportunities to connect and build relationships, it’s also preempting opportunities for boredom. Boredom is important for building imagination, creativity and innovation in our kids. Of course we can’t force these things into our children but we can set up an environment that will support the journey.

When we allow our kids to grapple with boredom on their own, rather than providing for them structured activities or distractions and amusements, imagination and creativity may come to their rescue!

“It is possible for boredom to deliver us to our best selves,” said author Nancy Blakey. “If we sit still long enough, we may hear the call behind boredom. With practice, we may have the imagination to rise up from the emptiness and answer.”

If we provide our kids with a constant stream of amusement options, which includes a plethora of extracurricular activities, we rob them of the opportunity to explore the open space in their own minds where the imagination hides.

They make a good point about having a structured schedule. With piano, swimming and homework, there wasn’t a lot of time for my kids to get bored during the school year. The summers gave us more hours for imaginative play. Also, swim meets when the kids would be sitting under a pop-up tent for hours on end resulted in some imaginative play. We’d be at a meet for five or six hours and they’d race for only a few minutes here and there. I remember observing some very creative verbal word games.

According to the article, the authors suggest having bins and jars filled with all sorts of things in easy reach for your kids like popsicle sticks, fabric, string, paints, googly eyes, papers of different colors and textures, glues, etc. Their suggestion:

Then let your kids get good and bored. Don’t offer many suggestions. Simply say, “Oh, there are lots of things you could do. I’m sure you’ll figure it out.” It may take time but eventually their imaginations will awaken and lead them to new horizons.

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The bug headbands made an appearance at several birthdays.

What do you do when your kids are bored?