Sunday, February 20, 2011

Weekly Column: Cultivating Creativity

All day long, our children pretend.  They are masters of the imaginary, commanders of make-believe. 
Somehow, though, when it comes to sitting down and having them physically create something, we often stumble over the same predictable roadblocks: lack of faith in execution – they want ME to do it for them; lack of grandiose options – they want something new and exciting; lack of motivation – what’s the point?
For a child, the act of creating something can be one of the easiest ways to learn and grow, with almost no outside input or persuasion.  They can put their imaginations down on paper (or clay, or cloth) and have it to keep.  They begin to feel valuable and capable: traits that will carry them through countless obstacles as they mature.  In short, creativity isn’t just something that will help dig them out of boredom in dull times.  Creativity is a precious life-skill and one that deserves to be cultivated.
And that’s where we come in – cultivation.  While we, as parents, can’t do the work of creating for our children, we can set the stage for an atmosphere that will be rich in the encouragement of creativity.  All it takes is a little forethought and – yes – creativity of our own. 
Start by keeping an ample supply of artistic materials on hand.  This doesn’t mean you have to shop for carts full of the most spectacular art supplies available.  Try searching your cabinets and closets.  Old greeting cards, beads, yarn, fabric, paint, tissue paper, cotton balls, toothpicks, magazines…gather interesting things and keep them in a mostly organized area for creating.  The more textures and colors the better, as these will help jump-start the flow of ideas in our little ones’ minds. 
Allow the kids access to those supplies frequently.   If possible, leave them out in easily accessible areas so a bored child can walk by, spot a glue-stick, scissors, and a magazine, and get down to the business of creating without any hinderances.  Keep crayons and paper out on the coffee table.  Stash pipe-cleaners and cotton balls in a box on the kitchen counter.  Do whatever it takes to keep creative materials visible.
Don’t be afraid to make a mess.  If you’ve been holding back on paint or play-doh because the possibilities for catastrophe seem overwhelming, calm down!  For painting, throw an old sheet over the table, tie long hair back, put on Dad’s old shirts, and let the fun begin.  As for play-doh or clay, stick to simple tools, especially for little ones.  Super-involved toys for pressing and cutting can be frustrating and limiting; stick to plastic knives, rolling pins, cookie cutters, and other simple tools.  Supervision is important, but it doesn’t have to stifle.  Your just being nearby is usually all it takes to stop a disaster from happening.
Display their work.  Our children put lots of time and effort into their creations, and it must really boost their confidence to see that work appreciated as art.  Tape a ribbon to the back of a painting, mount it behind a cheap photo-frame mat, and hang it on their bedroom wall for decoration.  Fill a wall with a collage of personal creations.  Encourage them to take pride in their work, and assure them that YOU take pride in it as well.  Draw attention to it, and beg for more. 
There are a thousand ways to become a household that values creativity.  A hundred possibilities for some paper and glue.  A few dozen opportunities to create in any given day. 
But all it takes is one encouraged child with one idea to create something beautiful. 

How do YOU set the scene for creativity?  Does your household come by creativity naturally, or do you need constant reminders and opportunities?

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