Creativity is one of the most important qualities for our children to develop. The good news is that you can encourage creativity without adding MORE to your plate. In fact, the practical ideas shared below often mean doing LESS.“A creative mess is better than tidy idleness.” –Albert Einstein
My older brother had this quote posted on his bedroom door during his teenage years, and although I’m pretty sure it was at least partly an excuse to NOT clean his room, I’ve always loved the message.
Sometimes my crazy, messy house drives me nuts. Lego creations line my kitchen counter, scraps of paper and crayons are strewn across the table, and a blanket fort currently is taking up most of my boys’ bedroom.
Sometimes I feel desperate for the mess to disappear…to have a home that stays clean for more than five seconds. But when I think about it, I don’t REALLY want a perfectly clean home. All the messes are proof of all the living and learning that go on inside these walls.
I’m sure if I would just let them watch TV all day, I could keep the house clean, but I don’t want clean, idle children.
I want creative, active, imaginative children who are constantly exploring the world around them and developing new skills and talents–even if that means they track mud through my kitchen.
Yes, creativity is messy. But creativity is also an ESSENTIAL skill for our kids to develop.
Why is creativity important for kids?
First, let’s define creativity.
Sometimes people confuse creativity with being “crafty” or “artistic”, and that is part of creativity. However, creativity is about so much more than painting pictures or writing funny stories.
The Oxford English Dictionary explains creativity as “the use of imagination or original ideas to create something; inventiveness.”
With this understanding, we can see the breadth of creativity: it is innovation, problem-solving, and adaptability.
Creativity is what led to Edison’s invention of the lightbulb, to Fleming’s discovery of penicillin, to the design of the rockets that took mankind to the moon.
These skills have application far beyond the playroom.
In fact, in a survey of 1,500 CEOs, creativity was ranked as the number one factor for future business success. These executives understand that creative minds think outside the box, discovering solutions that differentiate companies in important (and lucrative) ways.
And your child doesn’t have to be headed for Wall Street to benefit from creativity, either. No matter what role your child plays in the community–doctor, lawyer, engineer, construction worker, ANYTHING–the ability to think creatively is a distinguishing factor, both for professional and personal life.
Furthermore, creativity isn’t just practical. It’s also part of our human nature. One of my favorite religious leaders, Elder Dieter Uchtdorf, explains, “The desire to create is one of the deepest yearnings of the human soul.” We each have an inherent wish to create something that did not exist before.
How to encourage creativity in kids
Alright, so creativity is important. Now what?
How do you encourage kids to develop this creativity?
Before you go sign your child up for art classes, dance, and creative writing all at once, consider this: inspiring creativity in kids isn’t about doing more.
On the contrary, it’s often about doing less. It’s about stepping back and giving them the time and space to explore. It’s about not over-scheduling them so much with structured activities that they lose the ability to create an entertain themselves during free play.
Still, there must be something we can do as parents to encourage our kids’ creativity, right?
Absolutely. This “less is more” philosophy doesn’t mean I do nothing to encourage creativity. It just means that I see my role as facilitator instead of director. Rather than planning everything, I just try to set the stage for their adventures, provide opportunities, and create a home culture that values creativity. Within that framework, my kids’ creativity can grow.
Here are some ideas that have worked for our family:
Simple ways to encourage creativity in your home
1. Follow their lead
As parents, we’re used to being in charge. We set the schedule, we plan the meals, we chauffeur kids to activities, we enforce rules. That’s our job, and we’re good at it.
However, it’s also important to let kids be in charge sometimes.
When you go for a walk, let your child choose which way to go for the first 15 minutes, then you can be in charge on the way home (so that you actually get home).
Encourage your child to choose his or her own books at the library, help you pick a recipe for dinner, or brainstorm with you about what they want to learn about. Give them choices whenever possible.
Especially when working on creative projects, let kids take ownership of their own creations. Resist the urge to impose your ideas of what it “should” look like. Sometimes when I’m doing a project with my kids, I have to literally sit on my hands to keep myself from trying to “fix” their project so that it looks “right”.
When it comes to creating, there usually isn’t a right way. There’s a Pinterest way…there’s a way it looked in my head..but neither of those is necessarily the “right” way. So if your child wants to have a cyclops gingerbread man made out of purple construction paper with lime green buttons, let him.
2. Say yes more often
I have a tendency to say “no” to things my kids want to do, especially toward the end of the day. By four o’clock I’m usually exhausted, and I just don’t want to deal with one more mess to clean up.
The problem is that these messes are where creativity is often found. Now, I’m learning to pause just for a moment before answering when my kids ask if they can do something.
In that moment I ask myself, “Megan, is there a really good reason to say no?”
Occasionally there is, but usually it’s just that I’m tired. So, I’m trying to say yes more often. Yes to finger painting before dinner time, yes to blanket forts that fill up the entire living room. Yes to ripping apart a cardboard box from Amazon into countless tiny pieces. Yes to creativity.
We know that reading to our kids is important. It helps develop their vocabulary and is a great way to teach kids about the world around them.
Reading is also a fabulous way to expand your child’s imagination and foster creativity. Reading teaches kids about new places, people, and ideas. They develop a more complex understanding of the world, and expand their pool of ideas.
Imagine that each book is like a new flavor of ice cream. When a child has only one flavor, his ability to create is limited. But once we give our children five, ten, even a hundred flavors, the possible combinations they can create become practically endless.
As Dr. Seuss said, “The more that you read, the more things that you’ll know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”
Books are the building blocks of imagination. As we read to our kids regularly, we are giving them the tools to create their own new ideas.
4. Go outside
Despite the fact that many of today’s kids are learning how to swipe left before they can even walk, there is a large body of research that supports the value of spending time outside in nature…and not just for the physical health benefits.
Many studies link time outdoors with improved overall well-being and cognitive ability. People who spend regular time outdoors are more likely to have better short-term memory, exhibit lower stress levels, and perform better at tasks that require creative problem-solving. Nature is food for the soul, and happy souls are more creative.
Furthermore, nature makes a fantastic playground and laboratory. Toys often have one designated use (cars, dolls, puzzles, etc.) but outside the sky is literally the limit. I have been amazed to see the ways my kids find to entertain themselves with nothing but rocks, sticks, and dirt. It’s the best toy I ever gave them.
5. Let them be bored
If necessity is the mother of invention, boredom is the mother of creativity. If we schedule every minute of our children’s days, filling all their time with school, lessons, sports, and other structured “enrichment” activities, we rob them of the opportunity to explore, discover, and play in their own way.
I used to feel like–when my kids were bored–it was my job to come up with something for them to do. I needed to entertain, interact, and teach. And it is good to play with and talk to our children…but not every second of every day.
I’m realizing more and more that stepping back and giving my kids the chance to create activities for themselves is valuable. As fun as all those Pinterest activities are, sometimes it’s even better to let my kids take the reigns and create their own fun. Next time your kids are bored, don’t jump in right away and rescue them. Given some time, you might find that they come up with something amazing you never would have thought of.
6. Invite them to create with a “maker” drawer
Ever since Little Man (now 6) started toddling around the kitchen, I have dedicated one drawer solely to my kids’ creativity. The bottom drawer in my kitchen island is what we call our “maker” drawer. It’s where I put paper towel tubes, empty (and washed) plastic containers from yogurt or sour cream, egg cartons, etc. My kids know that they can open that drawer anytime and make their own inventions from its contents. It’s a simple way to empower them to be creative.
There are no rules. No instructions. Just the open invitation to open up the drawer and have fun.
7. Focus on the process, not the end result
Let creating be about the process, rather than the end result. Especially with young kids, avoid asking “what are you making?” when your toddler is painting a picture. Truly, they may not have thought about it yet. They may just be living in the moment, enjoying the squish of the paint between their fingers and the smear of colors combining on the page. Let them control the discussion, and refrain from offering judgement.
This is hard for me because I’m a naturally achievement-driven person. However, I have come to realize that my children–especially my second son–seek to experience rather than to accomplish.
I call my number two my “tinkerer”. He’s constantly working on inventions and experiments…but they rarely materialize into a finished product. Initially, this drove me nuts because I would look at his mess of unidentifiable stuff and think, “What were you DOING for the last hour?!”
In reality, he was doing A LOT. He was trying out ideas, taking them apart when they didn’t work, learning from his mistakes, problem-solving, exploring, adapting, and having FUN! Now when I see his creative messes, I remind myself, “Not all learning has an identifiable end product.”
So let’s do at Miss Frizzle always said and let our kids…”Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”
8. Don’t criticize or suggest “improvements”
In my own faulty perfectionism, I have a bad habit of wanting to “fix” or improve my kids’ creations. My hands instinctively straighten crooked googly eyes, trim jagged paper edges, etc.
I just like things to be pretty and organized. That’s not a bad thing…unless it undercuts and devalues my child’s creation. I don’t want my kids to feel like their own efforts aren’t good enough. I want them to be proud of what they have accomplished, without worrying about criticism from others. Yes, as they get older, I’ll push them to make revisions to their writing and do their best work in school, but when we’re playing with playdough in the kitchen…do whatever you want, kiddos!
Ready to get creative? Here are some simple, fun activities and resources to help!
- The BEST homemade playdough recipe
- 10 Laugh-out-loud funny children’s books
- Kids in the kitchen: Fudge in a bag
- How to make classical music fun for kids