I had the perfect activity for my then-18-month-old: cotton clouds! We would glue cotton balls onto card stock I would later cut to make a beautiful cloud. My son, however, had different plans. He wanted to play with the cotton balls, and even when I finally convinced him to start gluing, he had no intention of doing so within the cloud outlines. “You’re supposed to glue it here,” I found myself saying, before asking, “Whose project is this—his or mine?”
Sometimes parents find themselves taking over children’s crafts. We see these amazing projects on Pinterest, gather all the materials, and direct every nuance in what is supposed to be their creative time. We’ve hijacked their projects.
Instead, parents should be like guides. Projects are great for teaching kids to follow directions and to show them new techniques, but we should also be open to their own interpretations as well. We can show our kids how to do something, but if all they really want to do is explore cotton balls and glue outside the lines today, so be it. For one thing, it’s not worth any ensuing argument (pick your battles!), and secondly, they are likely more creative experimenting in their own ways than if we were to outline every single step.
#2: Provide space for creative activities
A wonderful way to nurture our kids’ creative streak (or any work ethic, for that matter) is to provide a physical space for them to do so. A child-size table and chair in a corner of the room would provide enough space to create, such as for painting, writing, drawing or sculpting.
Our kitchen has a little nook where we’ve designated one corner as our son’s “painting studio.” It happened by accident; we just didn’t want paint on the carpet and therefore set his table on the tile floor of the kitchen. We’ve since strung twine and clothespins to hang and dry his paintings and have hung some of his favorite pieces onto the wall.
#3: It’s okay for your child to be bored
The more you allow you child to feel bored, the likelier she will find creative ways to fill that space. When parents step in too often and feel pressured to provide activities every minute, kids are denied the chance to entertain themselves using their imagination.
The next time your child says, “I’m bored,” encourage her to find something fun to do. Your kids will depend less on overstimulating toys, activities and media and instead will learn to rely on simple, everyday objects and moments from which to derive pleasure. If need be, provide toys and props, but for the most part, allow her to enter that uncomfortable feeling called boredom—she’ll find her own creative ways to pull herself up from it.
#4: Focus on the process, not on the finished product
As most masters in their fields can attest, there is always room for improvement. A finished product could signify the completion of that particle piece, but not necessarily our overall creativity. When the end result is the main focus, kids can also go through picture after picture in a fast frenzy, thinking that quantity is the goal instead of the experience, the effort, and their creativity. Or they might assume that the finished product is the means to elicit your approval.
Rather than focusing on finishing a drawing, describe what your child is doing along the way: “Looks like you’re drawing the eyes on now,” or highlight the effort he puts into his projects: “Wow, that’s great you kept trying to mix the colors to find the right shade of purple.”
What are some ways you cultivate your child’s creativity? What are your kids’ favorite creative projects? Let us know in the comments below!