If you know me at all, you know I thrive on creativity and love to foster creativity in children as well. Since I was a wee little girl I’ve been writing books, poems and songs, doing arts and crafts projects, and launching small businesses during elementary school in the playroom of my house. Creativity comes easy to me, and I’m energized by it and by other creative people. And if you’ve followed my blog on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve definitely seen my Rae Dunn “Imagine” mug. It inspires me by reminding me every time I use it to ask myself “What if?”
I’ve been noticing lately how frequently my boys start a sentence with “Imagine . . .” and how infrequently most adults do the same. It’s a shame, really! Because what comes out of the kids’ mouths right after “Imagine…” is usually something quite interesting, puzzling, wondrous, curious, cool, and, of course, creative.
According to an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.” Sounds perfect to me. How about you? Children are known to naturally know how to play, and with today’s drastic and often-written-about reduction in time for free play for our kids, the skills children exercise in play, including creative thinking and problem-solving, are being limited.
If play and creative thinking are important to you, here are 5 ways to encourage creative thinking and playfulness in kids other than the obvious act of simply giving them time to play:
- ASK BEFORE YOU ANSWER. So often, when my kids ask me a question, I’m inclined to answer (and often I need to Google the answer), and plant that information in their brains. But when I remember to pause and ask, “What do you think?” or “What if it were that way . . .?” I see their eyes sparkle, and their minds create some interesting hypotheses that ground them in the perfect balance of reason and absolute creativity. So next time you’re faced with a question, pause before you answer, and ask a question instead. “Mom, how many bubbles are in my bubble bath?” Hmmmm.
- LET THINGS BE WHAT THEY’RE NOT. How many times have you heard “I’m sick of my toys” or “there’s nothing to play with?” I hear it a lot here, even though the playroom — correction: the house, the garage, and the basement — are filled with toys and games and puzzles and crafts and ideas. One way to tackle the inevitable boredom with existing toys is to encourage a different kind of play with them, or new uses. Sick of building with blocks? Use them to build a car track instead. Sick of racing cars down a designated toy track? Drive them in a mini-city on top of the blocks instead. Sometimes just combining two toys or items that aren’t typically found together is enough to spark an idea in your child’s mind. Steve Jobs summed up creativity well, as quoted in Wired, (February, 1996): “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while.” Just this weekend, D “frosted a cake” by decorating an air mattress with toilet paper. I definitely didn’t see that connection coming, but I’m glad I didn’t pick the battle about not wasting a roll of toilet paper!
- IMAGINE. Like I said before, my boys often start sentences with “Imagine . . .” When they do, I listen intently. Recently, D (age 4) said, “Imagine if after a snow storm, the snow went right back up to the sky.” Holy guacamole. YES. Imagine that! What would it be called? Would it eliminate the need for plows? Would we have more school delays but fewer school cancellations for snow days? Would entire snowmen fly right back up, or would they go snowflake by snowflake? Would the same snowflakes be stored in the clouds and then fall back down during the next snowstorm? One question led to another and another, until we had created a super-cool wonder-world in our minds. Some people may think it’s silly, or pointless. But to me, it’s the beginning of a journey through creativity . . . and those journeys are the key to many passions and new solutions and breakthroughs.
- CELEBRATE DIFFERENCE: Imagine if (see what I did there?!!? 😉 )we wore the same thing every day, ate the same things every day, read the same things every day, had the same conversations with the same people every day . . . you get the idea. Sometimes, difference is what triggers creativity, new thinking, fresh ideas. One way I encourage this is to give my kdis “blank slates,” or the — in this case not just metaphorical but also physical — clay to mold. I love making them plain white homemade clay, giving each of my boys a chunk to craft something out of, and just watching what they come up with. Same clay, different kids, different ideas. One may create a pretend pizza, the other a friendly monster, and the other a new planet. They all started with identical blobs, and then used their own experiences and ideas to express themselves. None is better than the other. All are good and interesting.
- SEE WHERE PLAY TAKES YOU: Giving kids time to play can obviously encourage playfulness and creativity. But I find that sometimes, my Type A side comes through and I try to control the play. And we’ve all read the articles about how our kids’ lives are way too structured these days with piano lessons and sports practice and language classes and enrichment this-and-that. Whenever I can, I try to truly just let my kids play. I may walk into one of their bedrooms to find them practicing for an impromptu comedy show, and the next time I come in, they’re running a store where they trade books and toys. Just minutes later, they may have moved onto building a maze out of a plain cardboard box, always making connections, sharing ideas, and moving through one delightful part of play to the next. It’s refreshing to see them so engaged in one world of play, and then to be able to let it go and quickly dive into another idea. Sometimes we (myself included) just hold on tight to the way things should be, while letting our minds play could let us see more of how things could be, which is a very interesting idea to explore.
I hope you find these helpful. These are all things I try to do in my house of boys, and each of my boys is creative in his own special way. People often say to me, “You’re so creative!” to which I reply, “Thank you! You can be, too.” It’s all about allowing ourselves and our children to be rather than forcing everything into a construct or structure or neatly closed box.
How do you encourage creativity in your kids?