How to Create Creative Kids

We gathered five experts in creative thinking (they're all parents, too!) to share their best ideas and activities for sparking your child's imagination.
Creating Creative Kids

If the word creativity makes you think only of painting clouds, daydreaming, or writing experimental poetry, think again. "Creativity is one of the most important economic resources of the twenty-first century," argues Gary Gute, associate professor of family studies at the University of Northern Iowa, and director of the Creative Life Research Center there. "The call from business, industry, and education is for people to think more creatively, not only to solve problems but also to identify problems that need to be solved. A lot of people have this notion that creativity is just a frill: puppet shows and finger paints. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but it's much bigger." Plus, according to James C. Kaufman, professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut, "Creative people are more likely to start their own companies, to be happy in their jobs, to be successful in business." And if that's not enough, they also tend to be, says Kaufman, "resilient, happier, in better moods. It's such a positive thing."

Luckily, cultivating creativity in our kids can be easy. It's a matter of what Joshua Glenn, coauthor of Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun, describes as a kind of parental one-two: present kids with an opportunity, then get out of their way. Because, in its broadest sense, creativity is fostered by what kids naturally do anyway: ask questions, explore, invent, daydream, improvise, make believe, make music, and even (or especially) make mistakes. "As long as you're encouraging them to do something creative, encouraging the process rather than just the final product, it's kind of hard to go wrong," Kaufman explains.

On the following pages, we introduce you to a handful of our favorite creative people. Mind you, these aren't reclusive artists retreating to a clean studio every day; they're in the trenches with us, with children of their own, figuring out what nurtures and excites kids (and, sure, also gives us parents half an hour to get dinner on the table). We hope you find their ideas, tips, and projects as inspiring as we do. After all, as Gute says, "Creativity is what brings meaning and joy to life." He laughs. "I mean, not the only thing! But it's a big one."

Turn Errors Into Opportunities

Creating Creative Kids

Photograph by Shannon Greer

Rachelle Doorley is the creator of Tinkerlab.com, a website of art and science activities for kids.

Her Philosophy:
"The only way to be successful is to make mistakes. I believe in the expression 'fail forward,' which means that success comes from a willingness to view failures as opportunities to grow--that creative risk-taking is more important than doing nothing at all."

Her Creative Tips:
1. Call projects invitations and simply arrange a few different materials, such as colored tape, markers, and paper, in an inviting way on a cleared-off table. Kids will use them however they want.
2. A designated self-serve, hands-on area, offering easy access to paper and pens, scissors and tape, glue and string, lets kids start creating instantly, without having to ask an adult for help.
3. Rachelle doesn't make erasers readily available in her house. If one of her kids is drawing something and makes a mistake, Rachelle says, "Would you like another piece of paper, or do you want to turn it into something else?"

Inspiring Ideas:
Start with an under-the-bed-style plastic storage bin (Rachelle's is 28 by 17 by 6 inches) with a clear, latching lid. Then use it for one of these:

- Concoction Lab: Assemble supplies and ingredients in the bin and let your child mix, measure, and discover to her heart's content. Rachelle puts in baking soda, flour, white rice, water, vinegar, salt, ice, food coloring, and expired spices, along with funnels, corked bottles, bowls, eye droppers, and spoons. In different seasons, you can add leaves, flower petals, and snow--or whatever your kids think of. "They'll ask, 'Can we use your coffee grounds?' And I'll say, 'Sure! And maybe I can interest you in some eggshells and apple cores?'"

- DIY Light Box: Line the box lid with white tissue paper or waxed paper, using clear tape to secure it. Place a string of holiday lights in your box with the cord dangling out so that you can plug it in. Do what Rachelle calls seeding the project by setting a few bowls of transparent materials (beads, colored cellophane, glass pebbles) nearby, then invite your child to play. The glowing materials can be arranged to make inspiring collages.

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