“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda
Would you like to raise your children to be their most creative selves, but you could use a little map on getting from here to there? The path to creative thinking is twisty and murky, with few sign posts and plentiful detours, but there are some landmarks that can help us find our way.
Here are 10 simple ways to raise creative children:
- Mistakes are Good. Stanford researcher and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, shares that children who are afraid of failure are less likely to think creatively. If your child acts disappointed at making a mistake, try saying something like, “what can we do to change this outcome?” or “how could you do this again?” I like how my friend and colleague Ben Grossman-Kahn of The Nordstrom Innovation Lab calls this Failing Forward, or looking at mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than failures.
- Embrace a Good Mess. Most of us like a clean space and feel overwhelmed when messes get out-of-hand. However, when children are in their creative element, messes can quickly develop. The next time your child asks to paint or wants to dump a bag of cotton balls all over the floor, make room for it (and/or take it outside). You might have to contend with a mess, but the creative benefits will surpass this temporary inconvenience.
- Be Mindful of when you Praise. We’ve all heard a lot about how praise can hinder a child’s independent thinking. In Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, he talks about how rewards succeed at motivating people to….earn more rewards. The problem with praise is that it can strip a child from searching for his own internal motivations. This isn’t to say that all praise is bad, but next time you’re tempted to praise, try saying something objective such as, “I see that you put your shoes on by yourself,” or “You’re working really hard on that math problem.”
- Be open-minded. Offer your child choices as a way to encourage independent thinking. You may not be in the habit of eating dinner for breakfast, but if your child says she wants to eat pasta before heading off to school, make room for that. If she wants to help in the kitchen, try turning your kitchen into a science lab and give her open access to a handful of ingredients and kitchen tools.
- Model Creativity. What’s your creative outlet? Where do you enjoy putting your creative energy? Cooking, singing, gardening, drawing, dancing? Children who watch their parents engage in creative activities are more likely to embrace these activities themselves. If it’s been a while since you’ve done something creative, think about what made you happy in your own childhood and spend half an hour doing that activity with your child. How did it feel? Could you try it again tomorrow? And the next day?
- Step Back. This may seem to contradict #5 a bit, but it’s important to remember that this is all about striking a balance. If a child feels like she’s constantly under surveillance, she may be less likely to take risks, which would diminish her creativity. If you encourage autonomy, you’ll see your child’s imagination bloom. The next time your child is engaged in quiet play, drawing, or writing, refrain from jumping in with a comment like “what are you drawing?” This will only pull him out the zone. Instead, make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy a moment to yourself!
- Set aside creativity time. This can be hard, especially for working parents, but children need unstructured time to imagine, build, experiment, and explore. It could be half an hour after dinner, drawing time in bed before reading a book, or an hour of imaginative play every weekend. Look at your schedule and make sure that there’s time set aside for this.
- Get Back to the Basics. Toys that beep and flash are fun, and definitely have their place, but they don’t build creative thinkers the way sticks, tubes, blocks, dolls, office supplies, sand, and water do. Spend some time watching your child play and take a quick inventory of your toys. What do they play with the most? What objects do they pull into imaginative play? Can you swap a close-ended toy (for example, a toy with buttons that has one or two functions) with an open-ended toy (like blocks that encourage free play)? This post by Amy Anderson for SimpleKids is full of great ideas: Creative Pretend Play Props and Ideas
- Reduce Screen Time. It can be hard for some families to remove screen time altogether, but we can all make an effort to spend less time in front of the screen. Time spent watching videos or cartoons could be spent drawing, building a city out of blocks, or serving up play dough cupcakes. What could you do to reduce screen time?
- What other ideas do you have for raising creative kids? There are so many ways to encourage a child’s creativity, and I’d love to hear what works for YOU! What would you add as the #10 way to raise creative kids?
Rachelle Doorley is a Kiwi Crate advisor and the publisher of Tinkerlab, a site designed to inspire parents and teachers to raise creative children.