Creative thinking and problem-solving are excellent and valued life skills. Nurturing creativity in your child can help them deal with stress, add value to their experience, improve their fine motor skills, and teach them important lessons such as how to work independently and cultivate motivation.
There are many different ways that you can stimulate creativity in children, depending on their ages, personalities and interests.
At all ages, it’s important to set aside time for free play, rather than filling their schedules with too many commitments. Some children will gravitate toward one activity or creative discipline and naturally start spending free time on it, while other children will bounce around between mediums or require more adult or peer-led interaction to stay engaged.
It’s important not to book too many classes, competitions and other structured environments, even if your child is naturally competitive or eager to learn, since they don’t know how to maintain their energy and risk exhaustion, a loss of enjoyment and dwindling motivation.
Infants are naturally exploring the widening limits of their world and need little encouragement. Most of what you can do for the first year or so is to create a safe space for them to experiment, and interact with them. Clear a baby-proofed space in which they can roll, wiggle, crawl and walk freely. Talk to them while you go about your day, explaining what you’re doing and why. Show them things and explain. It will take some time before their language skills and motor skills catch up, but they’re already learning from you.
As they age up into toddlers, you can encourage them to continue exploring their world. Avoid screen-based programming or digital toys that limit or over-define the type of play in which they can engage. Create wild spaces for them to play with messy things without causing too much damage.
Into the preschool and early elementary years, you may have more trouble resisting the urge to enroll them in all sorts of classes, clubs, camps and other structured learning environments. Some instruction in art, music and other creative endeavors can be a wonderful thing, but it’s important for children, and young children especially, to continue exploring their world and engaging in free play rather than being constricted by requirements and expectations.
Do make time and resources available for creativity, though. If your child is musically inclined, sing with them and make instruments available. Some instruments are hard to enjoy without focused lessons (and there’s nothing wrong with some lessons), while others are much more accessible, especially for younger children. Rhythm toys such as hand drums, shakers and xylophones are good for letting small children explore rhythm and the rudiments of melody. Keyboards, small stringed instruments such as ukuleles, and even appropriately sized guitars offer a chance to develop more sophisticated musical skills in an accessible way.
Storytelling is another dimension of creativity, and it helps if you can make a distinction with your child between lying and storytelling early on. Encouraging them to tell you stories (with or without props such as dolls or puppets), draw them, or write them down (they’re also easy to record now with mobile devices!) can help them employ creative thinking skills and learn narrative structures.
Artistic creativity is a big topic: play with art supplies can establish foundational skills in color, shape and fine motor control. For many parents, part of the challenge when it comes to artistic play is that the materials can get really messy, especially with smaller children who have trouble respecting house rules and remembering not to spread their art around every surface within reach.
Setting aside a “safe zone” for arts and crafts can help if you have slightly older children who can be trusted to keep it within the lines. For the youngest children, you’ll want to supervise artistic play more closely and control access to creative supplies.
Stocking low-impact art supplies can be an excellent way to limit the potential household damage as your children stretch their creative muscles. Look for drawing and painting materials that can be washed away easily. Don’t worry if you have an older child with a limited capacity to keep it tidy – washable, low-impact art supplies come in more than just chalk crayons. Get liquid chalk pens that work just like fine tip pens for detailed, complex art that can be wiped off any non-porous surface. If they wander off the chalkboard, you’ll still be able to praise their creativity instead of discouraging them as you remind them not to spread it around the house.
Important skills are developed throughout childhood, and creating a safe, accessible environment for creative play can help your child immensely in the future. Stock the home with age-appropriate materials that won’t cause damage and set aside free time for best results.