Encouraging Creativity In Children
YOUR CHILD IS GROWING UP. From the first exuberant slap of a fat baby hand in the oatmeal, through tentative crayon marks and collages of sticky-back paper, made-up songs and more-than half-believed-in imaginary playmates, your child is growing in the ability to explore the world and to have an impact on it. The power to change a roundish lump of playdough into a flat one, the fun of taking an every-day activity and making a silly song about it, the insights that come with the “pretend” games are the motivators for the natural creativity that is so often lost before we’re out of childhood.
AS A PARENT, you can have enormous influence on your children’s creativity, nurturing and protecting the fresh and flexible world-view that will serve them as adults with an enthusiasm for learning and doing, with flexible insights and problem solving skills, with originality and enjoyment of life. For a young child the “doing” of an activity is always the important thing, the finished product is of little or no interest. To be appropriate from the child’s point of view, comments about creative work should keep this in mind: “That looked like fun” or “You worked hard on this” are the sorts of comments that relate to the child’s own perception of the activity. The younger the child, the more true this is. Try particularly hard not to interpret a young child’s work as a representation. Many sensitive children are frightened away from creative activities when they pick up the idea that they are expected to produce “something”. Similarly, avoid evaluating your child’s work. A child who begins to draw, or build, or make up songs in order to please an adult has already lost some of the courage to experiment and enthusiasm for creativity that is so difficult to hold on to as we grow up. At first it’s surprisingly difficult not to say, “That’s lovely, how wonderful, that really looks like a dog, fantastic!”. Instead, try such comments as “I notice all those colorful dots in the corner” or “Looks like you’ve been experimenting with different clay tools”.
Let your child have as much freedom as possible in the area of creative play. For the young toddler this means blocks, dress-up clothes, rhythm instruments and other “do-it-yourself” activities should always be available, plus the supervised use of sand, water, crayons, playdough, and paint. Don’t forget to allow and appreciate creative (but not destructive) use of ordinary household things –pans, cans, couch cushions. Older toddlers and preschoolers should be encouraged to learn and follow rules that will allow them free access to art materials as soon as possible. A 2 1/2 year old who has a low art drawer in the kitchen has a creative head start over the same-age child who has to wait until someone has time to get the crayons down from a high shelf.
Make sure you don’t overdo the rules to the point that art activities become more trouble than they’re worth. You should expect a toddler to spend only a very few minutes at any activity and elaborate preparation and clean up requirements may end up taking more time than the activity itself. Simplicity is the key to success in toddler art. As children get older, you can expect increasing attention span. Remember that the energy spent in conforming to rules of neatness and order will be taken from the energy of exploration and originality. Every child needs to learn to conform in many ways to learn to recognize the rights of others and to be aware of safety rules. Without a framework of reasonable expectations, exploration and originality tend towards chaos. The over civilized child, however, sacrifices originality and exploration for the sake of approval. If a child feels his or her self worth is totally based on being clean and orderly, on doing things “right” on “not messing up”, then there will be no energy or courage available for creativity. Each family has its own standards between these extremes, and each child develops a personal standard. Aim for the rules that allow the most “creative mess” that the family can be comfortable with. Creating can’t be much fun if “be careful–clean that up!” is the usual response.
Coloring books are a common way parents provide for their children to “do art”. There are some reasons why this is a bad idea, from the point of view of encouraging creativity. One of the greatest creative strengths of young children is that they haven’t yet learned to see the world in stereotypes. Coloring books destroy this strength by presenting highly stereotyped drawings that encourage children to see trees, for instance, as a solid brown trunk with a solid green mass on top and bright red apples set across the face of it, all surrounded by a thick black outline. The question of how to draw a tree (or a house or a puppy) is answered for the child in a terribly insensitive and trivial way. Sunshine pricking through varicolored leaves, greenish apples half-hidden in the tree top, odd branches springing out here and there are what we’d like children to think of when they set about to draw a tree. The child chooses one of these difficult visions and fools around with pencil or chalks or crayon or paint and may or may not come up with something that impresses him/herself as a good solution to the problem. The value of the activity is the creative thinking involved in exploring the problem, whether the child is two or twelve. If those same twenty minutes were spent in coloring a pre-drawn picture or in drawing something “just like in the coloring book”, then that opportunity for creative growth has been missed. Give you children encouragement for good tries and interesting ideas, appreciate their unusual answers and unique ways of approaching problems, give them the feeling that to be “wrong” is just another way of learning, and you’ll be helping them towards a life of creativity.
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