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Encouraging Creativity

Dear Elizabeth,
I have two young sons. They both like drawing and we listen to all kinds of music. I would like to encourage their creative expression. Do you have any suggestions?
Shawna Tran
Elizabeth's Tips
Elizabeth Sanchez
Elizabeth Sanchez
  • Allow children to explore & play without limits
  • Encourage children to make choices & do things in their own way
  • Provide lots of time for dramatic play with open-ended materials
  • Show children you value their ways of thinking & doing things
Expert Advice
Susan Baxter
Susan Baxter
Early Childhood Educator
The Importance of Creativity
Creativity is a person’s expression of their inner-self. That is why we consider, dance, visual art, music, drama, and literature as creative. Although creativity can be expressed in many other ways, such as: cooking, solving a problem with the tipping block tower, sounding out a new word, or figuring out how to fit an odd shaped block into a round hole.

Play and Creativity
Play encourages creativity whenever it is child directed. It is that simple. Provide a safe space and open-ended materials, and affirmation where needed and the child does the rest. We actually do not need to encourage creativity in children – it is spontaneous and natural. Most often, children need to encourage the parent to let them design their own play and step back. Children are creative by nature. We all are. It’s sometimes, we, as adults, who do not feel very creative. I often wonder who told us that we were not and why we believed them. Adults have a great deal of power in the development of a child’s nature. We need to be very mindful of how we direct and interact with children.

Use Open-Ended Play Materials
I have been using the term “open-ended” which helps explain the types of materials that are best suited to creativity. The best materials are ones where the child brings definition to them. The items that the children love the most are the ones that cost the least. Just try bringing four various sized boxes home one day and you will see hours of creative play evolve. The parent’s job is to observe the play and see if there is any thing they may want to introduce to enhance the play.

Freedom to Make Decisions
Children’s freedom to make their own choices is creativity. Choice means you are making a decision about something that is personal to you. What it really communicates to children is that we trust that they can make decisions for themselves and that we value their participation in our daily lives.

The types of decisions a child should be encouraged to make on his or her own should always be relative to the child’s age and temperament. The child’s behavior will tell you if the choice is too much or too little. What the child does not have choice over is the rules or rhythm and routine that keep the child safe or a choice that the child is too young to understand. A good rule of thumb is to not give the child choices when the parent has made the rule and the child does not really have one. For example, at bedtime, do not say, “It is time to go to bed, OK?” OK is a choice. The child will say no and then problems will then unfold.

Unconventional Expressions
Don’t correct children if they express themselves in an unconventional manner. I know that when it happens to me at my age I do not like it and it is no different with children. If we correct children, we communicate that we do not value their individual differences. It also undermines the child’s confidence. Creativity requires a certain amount of risk and confidence because you are putting a part of your inner-self “out there.” The best way to shut creativity down is to “correct it.” If the unconventional expression is not hurting anyone and no one is in danger, then I do not see it as wrong or something that should be corrected. Mistakes, as they say, are really just learning opportunities, which are born out of creativity. Mistakes are teachable or learning moments.

Academic Achievement Versus Creativity
Academic achievement is a form that measures learning. Worthy academic achievement is possible through the creative process. Academics are just one form in which we can process creativity. Children who are taught in academic settings that are all form and void of creativity will express dislike, boredom and not develop a relationship with learning. We want children to develop a relationship with learning. That is a fundamental difference between people who just want to get out of school and people who become life-long learners. Creativity provides the opportunity to build a meaningful relationship with anything that we learn, whether it is how to tie our shoes or create a wood sculpture with a hammer and nails.
Child Care Provider Comments
Penny Salazar
Penny Salazar
Mother of two
My boys use a lot of play dough. Sometimes they will make a full meal of play dough for me. They will tell me that dinner is ready. They are really expanding their imaginations and developing their creativity. They learn how to play with others. They learn to cooperate with each other while I get to observe and see how they play together. It gives me insight into how they are going to socialize with others when they go to school. They are also learning to make decisions for themselves.
Eve Del Real
Eve Del Real
Child Care Provider for 3 years
The children in my care are always given the opportunity to choose how they want to play. For example, when a child is in the art area, they are at full liberty to use all materials in that area. They can decide what they would like to color or paint. The teacher will engage them in open-ended questions to keep them creatively engaged. It’s really important to have lots of different types of things available for them to get that creativity flowing. Going with the flow of the kids is important. They are very creative by nature, so following their lead is important.
Cathy Agnew
Cathy Agnew
Cares for her grandchildren, mother of two
My granddaughter loves to make up her own songs. She’ll make up a tune and create lyrics to go with it. I also have things like play dough, colored paper, markers, and crayons. She can use her imagination to make whatever she wants. Playing creatively helps make her more self-confident. It gives her the self-esteem to make decisions on her own.

Creative Exploration Box of Hats Featured Activity:
Creative Exploration Box of Hats
Encouraging Creativity Featured Video:
Encouraging Creativity
Topic: Play & Creativity
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