Creativity Kit - All About Kids
Kids these days (saying that makes me feel real old), are growing up in a very different world than we grew up in, or than our parents or grandparents grew up in. We used to literally play in dirt all day and have the time of our lives. It seems like kids today need a screen or gadget or they’re bored. I’m definitely not here to shame any parenting techniques, to say that screens and gadgets are inherently bad, or to say that you have to send your kids to play in a dirt pit for them to have a good childhood. I’m here to give some facts and suggestions about how to get your kids to use their imagination and exercise creativity. These are principles you can apply to various circumstances, and ideas you can try at your own pace and alter to fit your kids’ personalities, ages, etc.
My first couple suggestions are surrounding kids and technology. There are ups and downs of technology, but there was a lot of life and growth and development before kids had apps and tablets so it won’t hurt to take a little of that out of their lives. Technology is also extremely addicting to kids (see source 1), so giving them less access to technology can help it to not take over their lives, while still providing benefits in moderation.
To help curb the obsession with technology, tell your kids about your childhood. Explain that there weren’t many (or any) options for video games, tv, phone games, heck there weren’t even phones capable of anything except calling! This is important for them to understand so they know that not only did such a time exist, but more of that screen free time has existed than the screen age they live in. Tell them what you did for fun and the benefits. For example, my sister and I LOVED dolls growing up. We had way too many and we would dress them, do their hair, paint their nails, draw braces on them, take pictures of them, take them on trips and play dates, take them outside to “play in the yard” . It was like a dress up video game that was REAL. We got to take our dolls into the sun and soak up vitamin D, touch the grass and dirt, talk to each other in person, see our friends in person, move our bodies, use our imaginations, use problem solving skills (like the time my american girl dolls arm fell off, we had to pretend she got in a bad accident lol). Your kids might not appreciate all that right now, but tell them about it regardless. This doesn’t have to be a big sit-down conversation but you can simply mention it at dinner time, in the car, when you’re playing with them. I used to nanny a child who I explained this to and he nearly passed out from surprise. I told him that we could have a no-screen day from my childhood and he was SO excited to play like I had when I was little. The funny thing was that all we did was play with his toys, go outside and make cookies. It didn’t take any preparation, fancy play plans or spending any money. We simply put the screens away.
My second suggestion is to do just that! Get your kids excited about a play-how-mom-did-when-she-was-little day or whatever you want to call it. You could even bust out some of your childhood clothing or toys if you have access to them. This in itself is using creativity, because they will be imagining what it was like to be you as a kid! Woot woot. You’ll probably find, like I did, that this really is just normal play MINUS screens. Open-ended play is SO important for kids development and imagination (see source 2) and as many games on screens are not open ended, not involving real objects or people,they aren’t developmentally beneficial. They also don't allow your brain to come up with its own images, like books and oral story telling do.
Speaking of books, reading and listening to stories is incredible for imagination. When you read or hear a story your brain is free to create images for every word you read. What an amazing way for a developing brain to get a creativity workout! Read to your kids, let them see you reading, or at the very least turn on an audio book instead of a show or movie. Talk to your kids about how they imagine Hagrid looks or what they think Junie B Jones would wear on the first day of school or how beautiful the scenery in the bible would look on a warm summer day.
If you are going to have some screen time (and definitely no shame if you do!), there are some good apps and shows that encourage learning and imagination. Do some research, ask around and find what you're comfortable with. A couple suggestions for shows are Umizoomi on PBS, crafting or cooking shows (make sure they are age-appropriate). App suggestions include Todo Math, Reader, Monkey Lunchbox. Remember that turning on an audio book is just as easy as turning on the TV, but much better for creative development. HOWEVER. Be kind to yourself and other parents if you or they have screens on more often than you'd like, or more often than your neighbor does. Every family is different and even if you are working on decreasing screen time, don't feel bad if it takes a while to break the habit.
My next suggestions are principles that can be applied in a lot of different ways. See source 3 for an awesome article highlighting many similar principles.
Give them a chance + let them choose
In my opinion, everyone is naturally creative, and IF given enough space, time, problems to be solved, that creativity can be accessed and flourish (see our previous creativity kits to find one about accessing natural creativity!) Give your kids time to explore, to get a little bored, to get curious and have questions and to need to get creative. Obviously you want to make sure they’re properly supervised and not getting into anything inappropriate or dangerous but letting your kids figure out what they’ll do when they’re bored is excellent exercise for their creativity! If every time your children say they’re bored, you immediately give them something to do, they lose an opportunity to problem solve and use creativity to come up with something to do. May I suggest that if they honestly cannot think of something to do, make an open ended suggestion such as “find some items outside that you could use in a craft then come in and we can see how we can put them together”. This way you’re pointing them in a direction but still letting them use their imagination. Giving them materials to use can also allow for creative expression. Bringing out a crafting bin or letting them pile blankets and pillows in your living room to make a fort or a comfy bed to read in are great ways to provide materials but let the child decide how to use them.
Let them get into “trouble”
Take a minute and examine what “trouble” really means. Let’s be honest, bored kids are scary. It’s nerve wracking to see kids getting antsy and start complaining or making a mess because they need an activity, and often kids' first idea of what to do when bored is incongruent with an adults first idea. However, I think “trouble” is often over-diagnosed. I’ve known parents who think their kid using household items such as cushions, blankets, books, etc to make a fort is naughty. I’ve known parents who get mad when their kids get a stain on their clothes from rolling down a grass hill. Obviously these things can be frustrating or cost money if something is ruined, but it’s worth examining how you react to these types of incidents and if they really merit anger or punishment when they’re often actually innocent uses of creativity.
Expand your definition of creativity
We often associate creativity with visual art and find it hard to think of other creative activities that don't involve paint or crayons. However, creativity and imagination can be and are used in numberless activities. Cooking, baking, decorating cookies or other treats, decorating a home, making a home-made gift, music, writing, problem solving, critical thinking, dancing, imaginative play, flower arranging, building, photography, story telling, fashion design, gardening, journaling, make up, hair styling, organizing, cleaning, even navigating IKEA takes some creativity! If your kids don't love to paint, get a disposable camera and let them take pictures! If they like science have them work on baking or doing science experiments found online. Add some food coloring to vinegar and pour colors into a cup of baking soda to see what color they make when they mix. Go on a walk and find the alphabet hidden in plants, houses, clouds, signs in your neighborhood.
Let them ask questions and help them get to the answer without giving it to them directly
This can be done, as mentioned before, by letting children choose their activities, but also when children ask questions about nature, life, their bodies, behavior, etc. For example: if your child asks, “why do plants need to be watered to grow?” you can ask them questions and give hints to let them discover that plants are living things and just like your child’s living body, plants need nourishment to grow. Letting kids make connections like that and allowing them to think critically will help them do that in a variety of circumstances. Critical thinking is another word for creative thinking.
Let them make a mess.
I’m so grateful my mom let us draw braces on our dolls. I’m grateful she let me write in chalk on my walls and play outside until I was covered in dirt, sand, or snow. I’m grateful she didn’t get mad when my I made a massive rock hard patch of carpet from spilling modge podge while making a paper collage. I’m grateful she supported every creative and/or weird idea I had about painting and cutting wood or putting on plays with friends or drawing tattoos on myself and using her balsamic vinegar bottles when we pretended to be pirates drinking rum after Pirates of the Carribean came out. I’m definitely grateful she taught me how and expected me to clean up and I’m grateful she was patient with me while I used my imagination to its fullest. I’m positive it was frustrating for her a lot of the time and I’m sure she spent a LOT of time cleaning up after us and privately sighing after I told her my schemes, and perhaps suggesting less dangerous/messy ways to go about things but she always supported our creative endeavors. And looking back, I don’t remember much about movies we watched or computer games I played, but I have endless memories of places my little imagination visited as I learned to use it. Making a mess is often part of the creative process and allowing a child to get a little (or a lot) messy removes boundaries that can box in imagination. (see source 4)
SHOW them what creativity is
If your kids only ever see you glued to your phone or saying how bored or tired or uninterested you are, you shouldn't be surprised when they mimic that behavior. Kids learn SO MUCH from observation. By taking time to exercise your own creativity with your children, you allow them to learn from your example. So put the phone down, look your kids in the eyes and side walk chalk with them, build fairy houses in the dirt with them, play house, or school with them, fight with stick-swords with them, dress up with them, let them see you painting or writing or cooking or dancing. This is probably the biggest indicator of how much your children will use their creative skills.
Being responsible for littles is a big deal, and can feel overwhelming! Especially in a world that has so many opportunities for laziness, addiction, entitlement, brain-numbing activities, we need parents and caretakers who teach by example. The good news is that YOU CAN DO IT. You have a natural ability to be creative, and even if you don't feel like you are good at art or dance or cooking or singing or writing or whatever creative outlet you're pursuing, just doing it is a win!
As always, remember that art is for everyone.
For more ideas about kids and creativity, development, technology, follow some of our favorite instagrammers: @matangilemon, @collinkartchner, @ashleysfreshfix, @busytoddler, @mylittlemontessorian. There are SO many out there so go find your favorite!