One of the most common myths about creativity is that it is an innate talent that only a minority of people enjoy. In fact, brain research suggests that creativity is a learnable skill that one can build, just like a muscle – the more you use it, the stronger it gets. And the best time to build your ‘creative muscles’ is in childhood. This is the time – a time when your brain is still developing – when you can explore the world with almost no preconceptions or stereotypes. Fostering creativity is one of the best gifts you can give your child. But how? Here are five tips you can use to unlock your children’s creativity.
1. Let your child engage in free play
Children need time in their day for unstructured, child-directed, imaginative play – unencumbered by adult direction. A study in Frontiers in Psychology reports that children who spend more time in free-form activities are better able to set their own goals and to meet them without prompting from adults. In his gifted kids study, Adam Grant suggests that to encourage children to become future creators, parents should limit rules and let them play freely and think for themselves. Time for free play and fun is the optimal context for developing creativity – for both children and adults. The joy of free play creates a synergy that naturally leads to greater inspiration, optimism and creative growth.
2. Provide the resources children need to be creative
There are four key resources your children will need to explore and express their creative potential.
Space – Give children a specific place where they can make a mess, unless you don’t mind creative messes everywhere. It can be a room in your attic for dressing up, a place in the garage for painting, or a corner in your family room for model making. Prepare art supplies with which children can express their imagination in the creative space. They can be drawing tools, paper, scrapbook, Lego and musical instruments. These materials can be salvaged, say spare cardboard boxes that you had been planning to throw away. Next time someone asks for a gift suggestion for your kids, ask for art supplies!
Inspirations – Children need inspiration if they are to transform their imagination into a creative act. Do new things with them, take them to new places. Just make sure your children are not forced into anything as it could be counterproductive. For instance, do not force your child to go to an art museum if they say they will hate it. Help them to find learning enjoyable!
Time – Make creative time an everyday thing. James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits says, “No single act will uncover more creative genius than forcing yourself to create consistently.” Make creative time part of a fun daily routine.
3. Teach children that it is okay to fail
Encourage your child to make mistakes. Trial-and-error is an essential component in every creative act – kids who are afraid of failure and judgment will curb their own creativity. Indeed, the more ideas one generates, the greater chance there is that one of them will be great. To quote the great inventor Thomas Edison, “I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”. Picasso painted over 20,000 works. Bach composed at least one work a week. Most of these works were not masterpieces. Encourage your child to give themselves permission to fail with confidence. Share the mistakes you’ve made recently, so they get the idea that it is okay to fail. Laughing at yourself when you blow it is a happy habit.
4. Be non-judgemental to what children achieve
Your child needs your encouragement and your non-critical recognition of what he is trying to accomplish. Don’t judge, criticise or compare his creative work to others. If he asks for your opinion, notice the unique aspects of his work, but do not criticise. Emphasise process rather than outcome. One way you can do this is by asking questions about the process. . . Did you have fun? What did you like about that activity? And offer praise for the effort they made, not for the product they made. In so doing you can encourage your child to feel free to express himself, and to create something to please no-one but himself.
5. Be a model
What creative things do you do in your free time? Practise your own creativity and let your child see you having fun being creative. You could share your hobby and talk about what you are doing. Your child will pick up on your energy and enthusiasm and learn the joy of creation from what you do. Also, try to be creative with your kids when your time allows. You can co-create a castle with Lego blocks, co-write a story, or co-design a scrapbook. Co-creating with your child with a playful mind will give you an opportunity to get a glimpse of their world, and to communicate with each other. Your child will love creating stuff with you.
Again, creativity is learnable. It’s a cognitive and emotional muscle. You can build this muscle in your child by making an environment where they can get inspired and express their ideas as part of a daily creative routine. By doing this, you are instilling in your child a robust creative habit, which they will take into adulthood.