May 1, 2021

Every day ways to encourage your child’s creativity

New Orleans is nothing if not a city of tremendously creative people. (Just think: how many adults in other places spend so much time making costumes?) Creativity benefits people of all ages, including very young children. Encouraging creativity can help children in many ways: by sparking their imagination, developing a sense of focus and perseverance, and even facilitating their cognitive abilities.  

In the movie “Apollo 13,” a group of NASA scientists at mission control are given a box of seemingly random items, from which they are told they must craft a solution to bring a group of imperiled astronauts safely back to earth. Creative problem-solving, combined with scientific knowledge and teamwork, save the day. This kind of ability to think “outside of the box” and make unusual connections between ideas, results in skills that benefit children in a variety of settings throughout their lifetime.    

How To Encourage Creativity  

  • Have space available for open-ended toys and materials. Blocks, construction toys, boxes, recycled materials, dress-up clothes, small dolls/figures, and art materials can be used to forge inventions and imaginative worlds.  
  • Sensory experiences with sand, water mud or playdough provide opportunities for observation and resourcefulness.  
  • Singing and making music with any instrument at hand is another way to involve the senses.  
  • A simple stick paired with a box are popular playthings. These can be so many different things to a child, as opposed to commercial toys that are designed or scripted to be used in a certain, proscribed way. 

Creativity Is Not Always Tidy!  

It can be hard for parents not to feel overwhelmed by clutter. While having regular cleanup times built into the day’s routine may help, sometimes it’s better to leave a creation or project alone (in a safe place) where a child can continue to add to it over several days. By accepting some mess (while keeping some organization) may be a parent’s challenge, it is worthwhile to a child’s development. 

Nurture Creativity 

The spirit of creativity can also be nurtured by conversation. Begin telling a story and have your child add to it, going back and forth (this is a great car activity). Or let a child who’s too young to write “dictate” a story to you while they draw accompanying pictures.   

Ask (and encourage) open-ended questions to spark curiosity. For example, while gazing at the sky, ask, “What if we could take a vacation into space? What would that be like?” Or, “What do those clouds look like to you?” 

Children love when adults engage with them in a playful manner. Asking, “What if we had an elephant for a pet? How do you think we would take care of it?” may reveal thoughts that surprise you. Questions that prompt exploration could include, “How many ways can you use a spoon (button or ball)?” Try, “What would happen if you dropped this marble in water,” followed by encouragement to experiment and observe.   

And respond (at least some of the time) to those “why” questions preschoolers frequently ask with, “Let’s find out together.” 

Be Protective Of A Child’s Time 

This past year, families have certainly missed structured activities. As we move into our new normal, it may be tempting to book everyone’s calendar full. Instead, leave enough downtime for unstructured, child-directed play and projects. A little boredom and daydreaming are highly conducive to growing a creative mind. 

Lisa Phillips, MSW, LMSW, has been a parent educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital since 2001 and is a regular contributor to the award-winning “Parenting Corner” column. She can be reached at 504.896.9591; 

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