Inspiring Creativity: 20 Ways to Get Started

If I could work more fun and imagination into my family's day in just 24 hours, so can you.
child crafting

Thayer Allyson Gowdy

Yes, I know. I knoooooow.

In order for my kids to get their creative juices flowing they need only gentle guidance from me. As Dr. Mogel says, kids are natural risk takers, problem solvers, and uninhibited visionaries. But it's our responsibility and privilege as parents to encourage their imagination and self-expression and, as the glue-gun gurus suggest, make your home a petri dish for creativity.

That sounds great and all, but my interpretive dance card is already pretty full with cooking, laundering, policing homework, running baths, drying tears, breaking up arguments, driving children around the planet, and cleaning my house every 23 seconds to make sure it's not a petri dish for the next wave of H1N1 instead.

If my daughters, ages 8, 6, and 2, decide they want to paint sunsets at 7 P.M., I try my best to happily cover the kitchen table with newspaper and pull out the watercolors and paint-brushes without moaning in my head, "Cleaning up this mess is just another thing that I'm going to have to do in ten minutes when they get bored." Which, incidentally, is exactly what happens.

Making time for my kids to have creative fun seems like a lot of work. "But it doesn't have to be," says Elizabeth Rieke, CEO and executive director of the Center for Childhood Creativity, a nonprofit in Sausalito, California, that coaches parents and teachers on how to help kids get their creativity on. "So often, parents do everything for their kids, even think for them. The key is to let them be the idea generators." I asked Rieke for help. She showed me how to put myself and my kids in a creative frame of mind, with less mess and stress, at every stage of the day.

Waking Up

The "Stretchy Game": As you turn on the lights and open the blinds, call out body parts to stretch -- the funnier, the better. (Belly button! Earlobe! Bum!) "A kid's body and mind develop at the same time, so anything he does to warm himself up physically also warms him up cognitively," Rieke says. Plus, this challenges kids to tune in to their body and come up with unexpected ways to move it. When I shouted out, "Stretch your pinkie toenail," my 6-year-old ran to the laundry room to get a clothespin, clipped it to the tip of her toe, and pulled.

Arm the Alarm: Decide together on a good wake-up time, and show her how to set the alarm. Kids as young as 4 can manage this, especially if it's preset and all she has to do is switch it from "off" to "on." Make it her job to be in charge of it every night. She gets to choose which radio station it's set to or which song on the iPod will wake her up.

Fantasyland: Flick the light switch as you announce that the bedroom has magically transformed into someplace other than a bedroom. An aquarium. A bowl of Jell-O. A gerbil cage. A cloud. Then ask your child to imagine waking up there: "How do you think someone would wake up in a rowboat in the middle of a lake?"

Getting Dressed

Their Body, Their Choice: This one starts with a parental ground rule: "Let go of what you think they're supposed to wear," Rieke says. "You have to relinquish some control if you want to raise creative children." First-graders and older kids can really be given free rein to choose whatever they want. With my 2-year old, I started to pick out two shirts instead of just one and I let her choose. (Her favorite part was tossing "loser shirt" on the floor while yelling, "Nooooooo!")

Suggest a Theme: Today is...Backwards Day! Pinkalicious Day! Cheer-Up Day! Send kids to their closet to interpret the theme any way they want to. Now, instead of doing a job -- "getting dressed" -- they're creating something. Whatever you do, don't become the fashion police. Nothing crushes a budding Stella McCartney more quickly than a parent saying, "Are you sure you want to wear that?"

Turn the Tables: Let your child dress you (which means now letting go of what you think you're supposed to wear). That doesn't mean you squeeze into a bikini for school drop-off just because your son pulled it from your bottom drawer. In that case, say, "It might be too cold out for that. What could I wear that might keep me warm?" That way, he comes up with the solution.

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