I'm fascinated watching my niece grow and develop into a little person. She is about to turn three, and the stuff that comes out of her mouth already cracks me up to no end. Where does she get it from? It's really got me thinking about kids and creativity - each child's unique way of approaching the world and the special stuff they come up with.
I'm not only talking about prodigies with a paintbrush - but anyone's ability to see new patterns, and find innovative purposes and meanings for things, no matter what their interest, activity or talent. It might show up in a joke, a story, or - in time - a new product or scientific discovery.
Did you know that, in addition to an IQ, there's such a thing as a Creativity Quotient (CQ)? Nope, neither did I. But apparently it's on the decline among American students. At the same time, many schools are eliminating music and arts programs while standardized testing and memorization reign supreme. It's hardly the prep needed for our economy - one in which most manufacturing jobs are overseas and workers will only succeed through knowledge and innovation. It's the individuals with creative skills that will thrive, and it can be taught and encouraged.
Since schools can't always do it, that leaves the parents. Hello, can we say tall order? Not only do you have to work, clothe and feed them, but you're also responsible for encouraging original thought, risk-taking and ingenuity too? Jeez. It's hard to be a parent. But, there it is. So, here are some tips:
- Don't Over-Structure: Sure, kids need structure and stability. But we also have a tendency to schedule tons of lessons and activities so kids have every opportunity and are never bored. While this might foster certain skills (like soccer) it doesn't always lead to creativity. Kids need time to just play, invent their own games, and self-initiate activity.
- Avoid Perfection; This is a tough one, especially on frenzied days. Encourage multiple solutions for everyday problems, and not just the quickest, correct answer. How many ideas can you guys come up with to get Socks the stubborn cat to come inside? Be open to all responses, however crazy they seem. Or, when you child comes home with a A+ on her paper, reward the effort and not the score.
- Embrace Mistakes and Curiosity Instead: When your kid accidentally dumps a whole bottle of dressing into the salad, you can yell or you can say "No worries. Why do you think that happened?" and then let them figure out how to salvage the vegetables. They'll know it's okay they made a mistake and will learn from it. When you don't fear failure, you take more risks in the future.
- Provide Flexible Toys: Choose toys and games where kids are active players. Watching television is the most obvious example of passive behavior, but also certain "one purpose" toys only do one thing and one thing only. On the other hand, open-ended tools like crayons or Legos can be used in multiple ways and produce endless outcomes. So, yes, it's true that the cardboard box is often more fun than the actual toy.