It’s all over the news: creativity levels in children are dropping at an alarming rate. Nearly every article I read about creative drain in children pointed a finger at public school. It’s easy to place blame in one direction, but certainly it would be more productive for parents to actively nurture creativity at home.
Drains on Creativity
Most children start out as innately creative. As they grow older creativity can wane. Why? Certainly there are many factors. But we can’t deny that we, as parents, have a profound influence over our children. As I reflect on my own family and others in my social network, it’s pretty easy to identify some common drain inducing factors.
Issue 1: Screen Time
No matter how much they are part of society, television and video games have a profound impact on draining creativity from children of almost any age. Even the programs and games that attempt to promote creativity have a down side, as they are teaching children to engage in activities that are more beneficial when done in their natural state. Do your kids ever go make the projects featured in those shows? Yeah, mine don’t either. I think all parents realize the dangers of too much screen time, but it’s just too easy to use electronics as a carrot to get our kids to comply. If we are serious about promoting creativity, the first thing you have to do is minimize the use of electronics.
It can be done, I promise. We’re a no tv, no video game family. That said, my children get plenty of screen time at Grandma’s and friend’s houses. So when they’re here, they have to figure out how to entertain themselves. Which they do! I might also like to add that since we got rid of our television I have had little trouble getting my children to follow directions without using the tv as positive reinforcement. The transition to a tv-free home has been worth it!
Issue 2: Overscheduling
Another big drain on creativity is the lack of time. There are just too many good things out there that scream for our attention: social events, sports, school, homework, clubs, opportunities, etc. If you want creative children, you have to make creative time a priority. While there is so much value in the many opportunities our children have outside of the home, we also have to allow for freedom in the schedule. Even if that means limiting the number of activities we choose at a time.
Boredom is something that is not cultivated in our society much anymore, but generations past will tell you that their greatest gift was the time to just be bored, to have to find it within themselves to come up with a way to entertain, to create, to imagine and to dream.
Issue 3: Fear of the Mess
One more huge drain on childhood creativity is the mess factor. Yep, I said it. Messiness. Such an unappreciated concept. We live in a culture that prizes spic and span and everything in its place. Such mantras are counterproductive to all things creative. If you really want to promote creativity in your children you have to stop protecting your house from the mess they create. If you are really that worried about washable paint on the kitchen table, protect your surfaces or create a splash zone in your home where you don’t have to worry about the mess. Be willing to let them push neatness boundaries in the name of creativity. Once the fun has been had, there is a time and a place for cleaning up.
I once had a mom tell me that she wasn’t interested in any of the creative ice play activities I recommended in an article because it created too much mess. I couldn’t help but shake my head. Ice? Messy? It takes a few seconds to set up an ice play station with a bucket and enough towels to absorb the ice as it melts. A few minutes of set up could easily turn into an hour of creative play that would have otherwise been lost. No wonder our children are losing their creative edge.
Understanding the Creative Process
Now that we’re past the main creativity roadblocks families face, we can finally think about creating something, but where to start? Inspiration comes in many forms, from the works of the classics to the countless kid craft websites on the Internet. But before you start collecting a myriad of ideas it’s best to understand how your child’s creative brain works; and how to support and engage them where they are.
Product-oriented crafters are all about making a specific product. Think about a cute lady bug from a paper plate or an apple made from a paper sack. If you and your children need to make something specific, scour the Internet or magazines and come up with project ideas with directions to put in your inspiration file.
But don’t stop there. It’s one thing to see something you like and copy it, but true creativity is more than copying. When guiding a creative soul it’s critical to give them opportunities to experiment and create something original. Provide extra materials that deviate from the inspiration and encourage them to try different options.
These creators are all about experimentation and flexibility. They sit down with a new supply or technique to try out, and off they go. In their toddler and preschool years, children tend to be process-oriented creators, but they tend to lose the skill as they age. We, as parents, can keep those exploratory skills in place by focusing our creative attention on technique, rather than product. Instead of making that cute ladybug plate we saw earlier, let’s set up a sculpture studio filled with odds and ends that may or may not make a ladybug. Go back to your inspiration file and fill it up with all sorts of technique ideas and materials that are skill and age appropriate.
Get Your Toolboxes Ready
When you have a focus on process rather than product, it’s important to have a creative toolbox that reflects that attitude. When looking for new supplies I would encourage you to look for items that can be used multiple ways. Papers, paints, adhesives, and needle and thread all have dynamic potential for use and are essential items in a kids art toolbox. Cartoon character stickers are less so.
Make Creative Living a Priority
The bottom line is if you want children who are more creative, you have to make creative living a priority. Model creativity yourself on a regular basis. Find something creative that you enjoy and encourage your children to join you as you create. Let them see you incorporating creativity into your own life on a consistent basis. If you hit a creative snag, such as “my ladybug needs eyeballs, and I’m out of googly eyes”. Talk your kids through your creative problem solving process – what can you use instead of those googly eyes? See if they can help you come up with a viable solution. This will help them down the road when they encounter similar snags.
Don’t just sit there, go make something!
Elissa Peterson is a busy homeschooling mama who likes a little bit of paint under her fingernails. As a former teacher, she is passionate about all things creative and loves to instill that creativity in her children. Check out all the creative ways she manages to keep her children away from the television in her blog.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.