6 ways to encourage creativity in your kids [TheArtofSimple.net]

6 ways to encourage creativity in your kids

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by Jeannett

Jeannett Gibson is a mom to four and wife to one who loves color and believes in story. She loves to tell you hers and wants to hear yours, too...because there is really no sense in wasting our suffering or not sharing in each other's joy. She blogs, fund raises, and sometimes even gets her crafty pants on at Life Rearranged.

For the longest time my kids wanted nothing to do with anything creative.

If ever I suggested they sit and color a page in a book, they would look at me like I had grown a third eye, and even when I coaxed them into doing it, it always ended with a prompt “MOOOOOM…this is BOOOORING!!!!”

I realize that not everyone is going to be an artist, but still it bothered me that my kids seemed incapable of sitting quietly unless it involved a screen of some sort.  Sure, they were old pros at running, jumping, biking, skating, and otherwise playing loudly, but it still seemed that enjoying some quiet time while encouraging their creativity was a life skill we needed to work on.

So, a few months ago, I set out to encourage their creativity…and gasp!…get them to like it.

Here’s how I did it:

1.  Turn off the screens.  I’m not anti-TV, and I’m not here to lecture you on the evils of technology.  That being said, even though we did cut cable a couple of years ago,  I found that my kids (and I!) were still in the habit of watching Netflix first thing in the morning.

One day, I just didn’t flip it on for them.  After a bit (okay, a lot) of whining, and the mama ignoring, they found their way to the craft space.  Months later, they regularly start their day making something or another in their jammies.

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2.  Have a cleared off, large, flat surface where they can create. Now, I will admit that I’m extra lucky that my dad is a carpenter and built me this awesome desk.  But it doesn’t have to be a custom space, or even a desk to make it work.

Allowing your kids to use the kitchen table (even if it means clearing up breakfast ASAP!) or laying out a tablecloth on your formal dining room table (even if it means a messy room!) will work perfectly.

They just need a space to spread out.  I find that if they feel cramped, they give up quickly and soon start begging for a movie.

6 ways to encourage creativity in your kids [TheArtofSimple.net]

3.  Have a wide variety of craft supplies easily accessible.  I finally gave up on trying to have “mom’s craft stuff” and “kids’ craft stuff”.  Instead, our desk drawers are filled with both of our things and the shelves are lined with baskets of twine, glitter, washi tape and buckets of every coloring instrument imaginable.

Even at 4 and 6 years old, I let my kids have mostly free reign with the supplies.  Yes, even the glitter.  I’ve found that they rise to the occasion if given the opportunity and are much less messy than my imagination gave them credit for.

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4.  Be okay with random. The concoctions my kids put together often make no sense.  Plastic jewels are glued to haphazardly cut scrapbook paper and then painted over.  It isn’t always pretty, but they keep themselves busy for hours.  Happily.  Quietly.

The perfectionist in me wants to scold them for “wasting” supplies, or jump in and “help” them, but in the end, giving them the freedom to create how THEY want to without a hovering, correcting parent is what makes the creating fun.

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5.  Periodically organize, clean out, and restock supplies. Coloring isn’t much fun when all you have is a small nub of a crayon, and glue is just an exercise in frustration when the cap is dried shut.

My kids are pretty good about cleaning up after their art sessions, but sometimes it’s nice to have a grown-up go through everything and make it pretty and organized again.  Few things are more inviting than an organized space and freshly sharpened pencils.

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6.  Surprise them with new (simple) supplies or projects from time to time. Every once in a while, I’ll come home with a package of foam sheets, or a new color of glitter, or even a simple wooden birdhouse ready for painting.

Sometimes I tell them, and sometimes I tuck the item into the desk drawers and let the kids find them.  Often they start with the new product, and keep right on going.  For hours.  Did I mention they will do this for hours?

Had you told me a year ago that my kids would sit down and create art quietly on their own accord for hours at a time (much less first thing in the morning with zero TV time), I would have laughed in your face.  Surely you hadn’t met my loud, rambunctious crew.

But with a little bit of advance planning, a secret vow to not nag or interfere, and standing my ground against the Boredom of the Century because I wouldn’t turn on a movie, I couldn’t be more thrilled with a crew that not only makes things, but likes doing it.

Do your kids like to create?  How do you encourage them to do something that doesn’t involve running around like crazies or a screen?

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Comments

  1. Jeannett, I Love This! My son is barely three, but he already loves to make and help me on my projects. You nailed it on two key points: No screens in the morning (It only causes meltdowns when it turns off) and don’t nag/hover.

    That second lesson became obvious to me when I left him alone at 26 months or so with a pile of play dough, a computer (it was evening, so screens were okay) with a simple drum machine and a Makey Makey, a small circuit board that lets you interface a computer with anything conductive. (Like playdough, fruit, or aluminum foil). When we had played together, he had a good time banging on the wads of dough and making drum sounds, but left alone, he soon discovered that by pulling wires and mashing the dough together, he could make the drums repeat, stutter and create other odd sounds.

    I looked in occasionally from the next room, and was amazed at how comfortable he was at just mixing and mashing. But when my back was turned, it was a sudden unexpected sound that had me running for the door.

    A piano note.

    The drum machine was built with Scratch, a programming language designed by MIT’s Forever Kindergarten team to introduce kids to program, with very obvious colors and shapes. And before he could read he had discovered how to move a piano block into the space with the snare drum.

    Never nag. But be available to teach new tricks and techniques. Because my son constantly watches me make and fix things, he remains interested. I frequently buy myself new tools (glue sticks, poster putty, etc) that are actually for him. This serves three purposes. First, he learns how I use it, and second I am able to hand the tool to him later to “help me work” on another part of a project while I work on something that I need him to stay away from.

    The third purpose of the “new tool method” is that he often teaches ME new ways to use familiar tools, and reminds me to channel the pure creative glee I had when I started creating as a child.

    Thanks for the awesome article.

    • Wow! That is so cool and amazing! I’m definitely going to look into both of those things! My 6 year old would love this!

  2. Having a space designated for creative adventures (and keeping it tidy) has made all the difference at our house too. About a year ago I came to the conclusion that our formal dining room was a total waste of space and we converted it to an art room. I’ve never regretted it.

    • Yes! The photos you see are actually supposed to be my formal dining room. I had a beautiful mahogany table and crystal candlesticks. It looked like a Pottery Barn catalog.

      And it SAT. And needed dusted. Meanwhile, toys littered my living room.

      My husband was none too happy when I sold the table on Craigslist and converted the space to a playroom (and now schoolroom) but four years later, we both admit it was the best idea yet. :)

  3. I was inspired by Kara at Simple Kids to have a never-ending-craft-table. It’s been a wonderful playroom addition. They create nearly constantly! We’ve found some great tools online:

    -These days my son, 7, is into creating comic books. I’ve found printable comic pages with the squares ready to create in. He could spend hours at this.

    -My daughter, 9, loves her Rainbow Loom and has made some amazing stuff by following YouTube tutorials.

    • The comic strips sound awesome! I’ll need to find those! (But I will admit that my kids are a little young for the Rainbow Loom craze, and I’m secretly ecstatic about that. All those tiny rubber bands!!!)

  4. Love this! My 5 year old is great at drawing – I’ve always had pens and paper in handy reach, and his drawing has thrived because of it – but not so great with crafts.
    I haven’t been able to let go of some of that perfectionism around messy crafts, but this year I feel ready to dive in and let him play and be free!

    • Just walk out of the room. Close your eyes. ;) But really…when I finally let go and just let them have at it, I was surprised at how happy they were and the mess was really not that bad. Good luck! Try it!

  5. I have also found that we can suffer from art supply/coloring book overload, just like overload in a million other ways. I recently downsized all our art “stuff” by nearly 2/3. Old coloring books, broken crayons, colored pencils that were too light to make fun colors, just all that stuff that had been collecting. The kids could then actually see things clearly and are now using our art supply closet so much more.

    • YES! I go through the stash and toss paint bottles that are basically empty, glue sticks that didn’t get caps put back on…all that kind of thing. It makes for a really inviting space. I also buy tons of school supplies on clearance (think: crayon boxes for $0.25) and pull out brand new boxes every few months. Nothing like a fresh box of crayons!!! NOTHING.

  6. Coloring books happen to be the least creative of all supposed art so its not surprising that your kids were not interested in them. Unfortunately many kids are and all it does is stifle them. You also have to be careful not to have too much stuff out at once because that in itself is overstimulating. I’ve given a number of workshops in schools to early childhood teachers and one of the schools I was in was a wealthy one and there was so much stuff out, the kids developed a blindness to it. Its like hiding the toys for a couple of months and then bringing them out again…they are like new ones.

    • I see this in our home, Faigie. I have a lot of arts and crafts supplies that are in our repurposed dining room too. They are tucked away in the repurposed china cabinet. But its all behind closed doors and nothing out on the table. I think I will revise this plan and rotate supplies in and out of the cupboard on a regular basis and bring out new pieces every now and then too. LOVE THIS and Thanks for the inspirational post, Jeannett.

  7. Thanks for sharing all of your great ideas! We also have spaces so that creativity can flourish. One idea we’ve been working on the past few months is creating items for gifts. It’s been fun to see how it engages our family with the added benefit of seeing the joy in the recipient’s eyes!

  8. Great post! I’m inspired to re-vamp my small home office & make a creative/homework space for the kids.

  9. Not interfering has been the big one for me. I love to just let my four year old go and see what she comes up with. We collect scrap paper of all different shapes and sizes to keep crafting cheap. I only put out so much paper at a time though or it’ll be overwhelming and go everywhere.

  10. I LOVE this post! My kids use their art supplies WAY more now that we have a dedicated room for it and if I help them keep it organized. We’ve been holed up in here for two days now while our house is painted and I have loved watching them work!

  11. Love this! We converted a small bedroom on the main floor to an art (also office and at times junk) room. It is awesome. It sounds luxurious showing people our art room but for our family it makes perfect sense. We all use it!

  12. I love your craft room!! My boys have a few drawers in my desk with paper and fun stuff to write/draw with. I feel like they are pretty creative. They are constantly grabbing the paper and writing stories, letters, comics, drawing maps, etc.! My boys have never been too interested in store bought toys. Give them a cardboard box though and it will occupy them for the whole day! :)

  13. Your art station is absolutely breathtaking! Beautiful job creating such an attractive space. Since my son was diagnosed with leukemia (last year) we’ve been searching left and right for new art projects to engage him and his brother in. His ability to go outside or around other kids is quite limited so finding new indoor activities has been a challenge. Along with your great post here, we’ve been taking advantage of pinterest for inspiration on what to try out next. Thanks for sharing!

  14. I love the reminder to let them be messy. I can get a little nutty about keeping stuff organized. The comments about coloring books is interesting. We have many, but none are as well loved as colored paper and scissors.

    Our best move was painting the kids craft table black with chalkboard paint. It hides some messes and they can doodle on it with chalk.

  15. Great post! My kids are 4 and 2 and we’re just getting building up to an hour or so of happy quite crafting. And I recently made the crafting supplies when the kids can get them by themselves. It has been awesome! When I look at the mess vs. happy quite time equations, it is always worth cleaning up the mess.

    I also have a “fancy” looking oil cloth table cloth on our dinning table. Everything wipes right off it! It helps me relax about the mess!

  16. Did you have your crafting area/creative space when your kids were younger? (If I left out craft supplies my 2 year old would have them ruined and thrown around the room!) any tips for toddlers and preschoolers? I would love to get away from the morning TV routine (although that is the only time of day they get screen time- after breakfast)

  17. This was a great reminder to me, because I used to be much better at this, and I’ve kind of lost it. Maybe it’s something about 2 out of 3 kids being in school. I agree that turning off technology helps a ton. I just have to wait out and get beyond the whining/I’m bored talk for a little bit and then they give up and have a fabulous day of playing, pretending, creating.

  18. My 6 year old daughter gets first dibs at boxes, etc before they hit the recycle bin. For Christmas she made me a “candy shooter” (she’s never seen a PEZ container) & a horse. She has access to all the art supplies & both she & my 4 year old will sit & create for hours. I love it!

  19. I think these tips can apply to the kids in all of us ;)

  20. I LOVE your post! I am a former first grade teacher now turned stay at home mom, so I’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for the day I could actually set up an art area for my two boys. This past fall (right after my youngest turned 2), I set up our very first art area for them. While they don’t use the area every day, they do love doing art. I love what you said about not hovering and not critiquing their creativity. My boys layer stickers all the time right now; however, it would be so sad for me to inhibit their creativity and box them in to a “right” way to use stickers. It might not be appealing to my eye, but they are learning something very valuable…that they can create. I also have been so pleasantly surprised at how willing they have been to clean up their art supplies. They know it’s a privilege to have free access to art supplies, so they are very ready and willing to clean up after themselves (sometimes with a little help) because it means they will keep having access to their supplies. Again, I LOVED your post!

  21. These are great tips and we practice these for the most part. My 7 year old is especially crafty. Most recently she’s taken up designing and stitching her own stuffed animals -not necessarily picture-perfect creations, but she’s learning some awesome skills!

    The one thing I’d add is that kids not only need space to create, but also time to create. Part of this is limiting screen time, but it’s also helpful to not always have scheduled activities or errands. Sometimes the most creative projects my kids have come up with are when they complain they’re bored and I tell them they’ll have to figure out something to do. This is when they decide to make their own picture books or craft brilliant stories together or come up with their own game. Of course, they might also make snow out of a styrofoam block, but you have to expect some messes when you’re trying to cultivate creativity :).

  22. Scarves (made by fingerknitting), rubber band bracelets, bookmarks, small ceramics made into pendants for necklaces, handmade cards, keychains…..it’s just lots of fun to share children’s creativity!

  23. Love your steps. I’ve used them all and they’ve worked well within the personality of my children.

    For my oldest who’s so geography and engineering minded, his creativity flourishes with block building, city designing, sign creating and lots and lots of drawing. When I supply the art area with quality colored pens and pencils it’s hard to tear him away from the desk. There’s such a difference in his interest to create depending on the quality of tools at his disposal.

    As for my daughter, she was born to create. So with her, I don’t have to strategize except to just continue crafting myself which encourages her to branch out from paper, pencils and tape into crochet, knitting and sewing which is now crazy about too!

    So yes, I’d also add quality materials and an atmosphere and priority to create. SouleMama’s book, The Creative Family, speaks a lot about this too.

    Let’s create away!

  24. Thank you for your post. I’m currently expecting twin boys in March 2014 and want to really have activities where they can explore creativity and use their imaginations for a variety of projects.

    I work with a lot of “creatives” and designers in the advertising/PR industry and they definitely need resources, tools and a space of their own to create things so this makes sense to transfer these concepts to the home.

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