Encouraging a creative child these days isn’t easy. As a teacher for 20 years, I have seen many trends come and go in the field of education. We are all to quick to jump on the educational trend train when it comes to the newest, fastest, highest ranked priority for the now. What will give us the highest test scores to make our school or district look really good on paper?
Currently, we are seeing the need to “teach to the test”. Standardized testing has taken the U.S. by storm and the need to have ALL students score high on these tests is the center of what seems to be important. But what kind of disservice is it doing to our kids when it comes to creativity and being original? We have become so wrapped up in having our kids read and write fluently by 4, speak 2 languages by 10 and take college credited classes in high school.
These brilliant young folks are able to pass a class or a subject where they are told what they need to know, but how many young people would be able to apply this learning in an original constructive way in society? A talented music student may be able to learn to play a magnificent piece by Bach or Mozart, but rarely are these students able to compose their own original scores.
Practice makes perfect but it doesn’t make new. Many times these bright or even brilliant students work so hard to gain the praise of their teachers and parents and conform to “the rules” but so seldom work to make their own rules.
According to The Article Creativity: Asset or Burden In The Classroom in the Creativity Research Journal Volume 8 Issue 1 by Erik L. Westby and V.L.Dawson, students that were more likely to conform to rules were less likely to show creativity because they made little effort to know creative thought to problem solve because they were told exactly how to act and what to think.
In other words, “This is what we want you to do, at this time and in this way. Please follow all of the directions.” This is how standardized tests test our kids for factual knowledge.
Now let’s not mistake being disrespectful and disrespectful behavior for being creative. Purposely being defiant is not being creative. That’s just being a jerk. Some people see questioning why something needs to be done a certain way as being confrontational rather than simply trying to figure out multiple ways to solve a single problem. In other words, being creative.
It took me well into my adult years to understand that there are no hard fast rules when it comes to visual art and creating it. As a kid, I was a rule follower and never caused waves. I did what was asked and rarely questioned anything. I loved art and was very creative in that realm, but in anything else, I just did what I was told. The idea that there are certain rules you need to follow with techniques and mediums held me back from creating original work.
What helped me get through this wall? Well, I started following my own advice. My students always ask me if it was ok to try this or that and my answer to them would always be,”Try it and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, try something else.”
Getting my students to understand that there is always more than one way to get to the finish line is helping them to not be afraid to fail on their first attempt at anything. In fact I always kind of hope they fail in their first attempt at anything.
Learn How To Fail
Fail? Who wants to fail and why would I want my child to fail? No one wants to see their child fail. But it’s how we encourage them to fail that matters. Always fail forward! But what does this mean? In the wise words of Thomas Edison,” I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Encouraging our kids and students to keep trying until we find the “thing” that works is failing forward. You don’t quit until you find your “thing” that will work. This applies to everything you do. From reading and math to art, music, and athletics. 1, 10 or even 100 attempts to throw free throws will not make you Michael Jordan. Cover bands do not change the world! You need to find your own voice to make a difference and be original.
In adulthood, many of the students who were considered to be prodigies as kids, become prestigious professionals who work hard every day in the profession they have chosen without working to transform and change the field they have chosen. Doctors, for example, can do great things to heal their patients without working to change healthcare for the masses.
So what can we do to encourage our children to grow up to be creative adults? First, let’s understand that every single person is creative. When people think about being creative they go right to the thought of being able to create beautiful works of art. This is not what creativity is about. Creativity is more about coming up with various solutions to solve the same problem in their own unique way. We learn more from figuring out how to go from failure to success. Failing is learning.
Stress Is The Ultimate Creativity Killer
Studies have shown that stress kills creativity. Families that have excessive schedules and kids with a ton of homework or who have multiple family rules are not only less creative but far more stressed. Kids need relaxed time for their brains to be creative.
This doesn’t mean sitting in front of a T.V. or a computer screen playing video games. Reading, napping, drawing, and coloring, listening or playing music, etc. are all good ways to take a “brain break”. Why do you think you come p with some of your best ideas or solutions in t your morning shower or on your commute to or from work?
When my own children were little they loved to make pretend food out of Playdough or create culinary magnificence in their little pretend kitchen. Of course, they would bring me a plate of plastic food and I would pretend to devour it like it was the best meal I have ever eaten and ask them to go back to the kitchen to make more.
Give your children opportunity to pretend and play with props and ideas to create anything they want. Did you ever have a large empty box? It’s the cheapest creativity starter I have ever come across. Even older children can’t pass up the opportunity the create using just a large empty box. Instant fort for all kinds of adventure.
Open Ended Ideas and Questions
As an educator, we are asked to use open-ended questions for our students all the time. Open-ended means there are multiple answers to a single question. Open-ended creativity allows children to create whatever they can imagine. When I was growing up we would go over to my next door neighbor’s house where she had a HUGE box of legos. She and I would create vast dream house floor plans. We would build kitchens and bathrooms, bedrooms, living rooms and even garages complete with moving cars.
Have you noticed that a lot of the lego sets now come in kits with full sets of directions? Following directions isn’t open-ended. I’m kind of ok once they put together their “kit” and don’t keep the kit pieces all separated ziplock bags. Being told exactly what to do and how to do it does not encourage creative unique thinking and problem-solving. Buy big sets of lego’s, Playdough, paints, and coloring books without the rules and directions on exactly what to do. Let the kids figure it out with multiple “correct answers”.
Designated Messy Area
Figure out an area of your home that kids can make messes. Encouraging a creative child means making a few messes. As adults, we always worry about who will stop by unannounced and see our home in a mess. I’m guilty of this too. Always making sure the toys are put away and things are in order. Now, I’m not saying that we need to have the entire house in a constant shambles striving to enrich our kids’ creativity. You could use this as a pretty good excuse though.
What we have done is set aside a room in our basement that we straighten up when the kids are not working on projects but have the ability to leave unfinished puzzles, projects and lego buildings set up if the need is there. Find a place where children can stash their unfinished projects, experiments, and ideas until they can come back to them. Someplace out of the way but still very accessible.
Remember… Adults need creativity too!
As an adult, we need to be creative as well. Think about the person whose job revolves around constant direction with little input into what they do or how they do it. These are usually the people that hate their job and feel unimportant as they feel that their ideas are unimportant.
Think back to when you were in school. Was there a class in high school you really loved? Art class? Home Ec ( Now called Family Consumer Science Education) or Shop Class (Now known as Technical Education Class) Or is there something you want to learn how to do?
I have a teacher friend of mine who is a history teacher. He likes the subject matter he teaches but a few years ago his wife bought him a gift certificate to learn how to do blacksmithing. He’s always had a fascination with it. Because of his interest, he’s gone on and taken multiple classes since that first experience. This interest and need to be creative led him to set up a mini blacksmith shop at his house that he spends hours creating various metal work in. He sells some of his items but really it’s more for him to “get away from it all” and just be.
Encourage your kids to find what creative areas they like, but also nurture yours too. Let them be a part of what you enjoy as well.
Encouraging a creative child to following directions step by step to accomplish a single intended outcome is not being creative. Don’t get me wrong, directions and instructions have their place. But, failing with different attempts to solve a problem is failing forward and the more times you fail forward the more you learn from each experience getting closer to finding the solution you are looking for. Creativity is experimentation and is hard work.
Being over schedules and not having the time to give your brain a break is a huge creativity killer. Everyone needs brain breaks to think and come up with different solutions to situations. There are lots of ways to play or relax to give your brain a rest and think differently. This is NOT a bad thing. Embrace it for your children and yourself!
Encouraging a creative child with the ability to make “stuff” is a true gift. Whether it is playing with Playdough, using legos without instructions, playing kitchen, or an empty cardboard box, just let them play and make “stuff” without direction from you. See what they come up with.
Use open-ended questions so kids have to really think about the answer. Asking them a yes or no question or asking them a question and giving them an answer to choose from is not open-ended and certainly does not get them to think about a solution for a problem or situation. Let kids come up with multiple “correct answers”. This is a great way of encouraging a creative child and thinking in creative ways.
Designate an area for creative play. Encourage kids to keep their creations and work out until they are completely finished, but make sure it’s in a place that won’t make you crazy hoping someone doesn’t happen to drop by for a visit.
Finally, remember that it’s ok for you as an adult to be creative too! You need creativity in your life. so go belly up to a coloring book, pull out a cookbook and improvise a recipe, go in the garage and build something or take a class to learn something you have always wanted to learn. Rekindle a love for something you did when you were younger or do something you have always wanted to do. Don’t think…. go DO!