Why Is Creativity So Crucial?
It's 6:30 p.m., and my 3-year-old daughter, Sophie, is busily turning her supper into a science experiment. First she drops some peas into her milk. Then she adds a squirt of mustard, shovels in some chicken and rice, and stirs it all up. The concoction looks as gross as you might imagine. But I'm fine with it. Sophie's eaten plenty, and she's having a blast. Besides, she's doing more than making a mess. According to experts, Sophie is experimenting, learning to be persistent, and coming up with new solutions to problems -- creative skills that will serve her well in school, in work, and in life.
"Nurturing creativity is one of the most important things you can do for your child," says Wendy Masi, PhD, dean of the Mailman Segal Institute of Childhood Studies at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, and author of Toddler Play. New research indicates that a child's imagination quotient (aka "the other IQ") may be a bigger factor in predicting academic success than the more traditional measure of aptitude, her intelligence quotient. "You want your child to be an original thinker, to understand that there isn't always one right answer to every situation," says Dr. Masi.
But that's a tall order for parents. For one thing, schools are increasingly test-driven these days. Even many preschools emphasize academics at the expense of unstructured play. There's also a problem with lots of so-called "educational" toys for young kids. Interactive games that beep when a child provides the right answer may be entertaining, but they don't require the creative input that young kids need to learn. Neither do DVDs designed to teach kids about numbers, letters, or music.
"There is a real risk that we are undermining children's creative potential," says Dimitri Christakis, MD, coauthor of The Elephant in the Living Room: Make Television Work for Your Kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics agrees. It recently issued a report calling for parents to spend more time playing with their kids -- and to focus on simple, old-fashioned toys instead pf high-tech ones.
Blocks are widely considered the perfect creative learning toys, since they allow children to build and invent without direction or boundaries. In a recent study at the University of Washington in Seattle, researchers gave families with toddlers a set of wooden blocks and suggestions for "blocktivities" they could do together, such as sorting by size or color. Six months later, the kids with the blocks scored 15 percent higher in a language-development test than a control group of children who didn't have them.
But building toys are just one way to unleash your child's imagination. To raise a creative child, you need to think out of the box yourself.