Raise a creative

More creativity means better writing, thinking and problem solving. Here's how to get those juices flowing.

By Janine Spencer, Ph.D.

Dr. Janine Spencer is a developmental psychologist and director of the Centre for Research in Infant Behaviour (CRIB) in the UK.

When we think of all the skills a child needs to learn to be able to succeed academically, we often think of reading, writing, concentration, math and so on. However, one of the most important skills children need to develop is their creativity. Creativity is what children use to write stories, solve problems, play music, make arts and crafts and even perform complex math operations.

What is creativity?

Simply put, creativity is being able to think of new ideas. To help our children become creative we need to foster their natural curiosity and sense of adventure. Children are like sponges that can absorb new information easily, and a child that is curious is going to go out of his way to learn new things. The more things that children find interesting, the easier it will be for them to make new connections between them and come up with new ideas.

There are many things we can do as parents to encourage creative thinking in their children. Some of them are pretty obvious like encouraging coloring and drawing, and others are less obvious such as helping your child to think for himself. Below is a list of easy tips that can help children develop their creativity.

Tips for fostering creativity

  1. A child with high self-esteem is confident to try new things and believes in his own ability to be creative. Have a ready supply of arts and crafts to make with your child. Why not encourage your child to make his own Thanksgiving or Christmas cards? His cards may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the Victorian snow scene you can buy in a stationery shop, but he will be actively developing creative thought. A homemade card has a beauty and charm of its own, and will always be appreciated by grandparents and close friends. By actually using his cards, your child will see that you value his efforts and that will give him the confidence he needs to be creative in the future.
  2. Read to your child. It may seem obvious but the more stories a child hears, the more his imagination will be stimulated. Why not ask your child to tell you a story? You may find that it bears a strong resemblance to stories you have read to him, but typically there will be elements of more than one story. That is what creativity is – making associations between different ideas to create something new. When your child is learning to read and write, ask him to write out his stories, illustrate them and turn them into keepsake books.
  3. Children begin to play "pretend" at around the age of 18 months. This may take the form of using a banana as a phone or pretending to drink tea out of a toy cup. As they get older, their pretend play will become more sophisticated. Whatever type of pretend play they engage in, whether it’s charging up and down the stairs pretending to be dinosaurs or dancing around playing princesses, it’s all good. They’re stimulating their imagination and creating new stories. Children really appreciate it when their parents join in with their game. It shows them that you think their ideas are important and worthy of your time. What better way to build self-esteem in your child?
  4. Children love making music. Encourage your child to play a musical instrument to stimulate his artistic and creative side.
  5. Let your child help you in the kitchen. Cooking may not feel very much like being creative when you do it every night. However, watching a sloppy cake mixture turn into a light, fluffy sponge is fascinating for children. Putting two ingredients together to make a third new flavor is creativity in action.
  6. Children have an open-minded approach to everything, and puzzles are great way to stimulate their creating thinking. They can often solve puzzles more easily than adults simply because they aren’t limited by adult preconceptions of how things work.
  7. Give your child time and space. Children need time every day to play and daydream. If every waking moment is filled with activities, your child will never have the time to use his imagination and think creatively.

It takes years of practice to become a Jedi Master

Being creative is hard work. Children, like adults, can be very critical of their efforts and may be inclined to give up easily if they don’t get something right straight away. However, there isn’t a genius out there who hasn’t spent years and years practicing to make the most of their talent. Thomas Edison said “Genius is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration.” If your child becomes frustrated because he can’t do something perfectly, be sympathetic and explain to him that everyone needs practice to master new things. Be positive about the things he does well. For example, if he finds it hard to draw Santa on his homemade Christmas card, point out how well he can color with his crayons. With perseverance and guidance, every child can realize the creative potential within.