Duke TIP

Fostering Creativity

Your child doesn’t have to be an aspiring artist to reap the benefits of a creative life. Creativity enhances all facets of existence because it opens us up to boundless possibilities: professionally, educationally, socially, and personally. Whether playing the violin, shooting a basketball, or doing a complex math problem, we use creative thinking, which takes practice and requires that we replace old thinking habits with new, playful approaches. It’s never too late to foster creativity, though the sooner we begin, the better. To nurture creativity in children, try the following:

  • Play “what if.” Young children and teenagers alike love to imagine possibilities. The questions can be as silly as “What if the moon really were made of green cheese?” or as serious as “What if the American colonists had lost the Revolution?” There are no wrong answers, and the responses often lead to further what if’s. Exploring possibilities is a good way to start a creative writing piece, begin an art project, or form a scientific hypothesis. After all, most great works of art and important discoveries come from those with the curiosity to wonder “what would happen if . . .” and the tenacity to keep trying, even if they meet with failure, until they find out.
  • Learn to look. Practice going well beyond the adjectives commonly used to describe people, places, and things. Ask children what they associate with such things. For example, their funky new nail polish may be described as lime green, but it may also remind them of the plastic grass in Easter baskets and spark a chain of free associations.
  • Introduce new experiences. Breaking down stereotypes involves comparing preconceived notions with actual experiences. Have children describe what they think a certain culture’s religion or food might be like, then allow them to experience it in some way, comparing their expectations with their discoveries. New experiences raise new questions and lead to more possibilities.
  • Experiment. Be willing to tolerate a little messiness while family members experiment with new flavors and original recipes, design new clothing fashions from old favorites, personalize letterhead and stationery, or try out various paint or color schemes in personal spaces. In an atmosphere of increasing peer pressure, growing children, especially young teenagers, need a chance to assert their identities and their uniqueness in a safe environment.
  • Find creative arts opportunities that do not entail academic or performance pressure. Recreation departments usually provide a variety of opportunities for young children, teenagers, and adults to learn painting, drawing, photography, dance, drama, creative writing, music, or crafts in a stress-free atmosphere. Children’s interests, not what their parents want them to learn, should drive their choices. The creative process, not the final product, should be the emphasis.
  • Insist on some quiet time. Creativity requires mulling and reflection away from distractions such as television, e-mail, telephones, the Internet, and electronic games. Journaling, hiking, bicycling, walking the dog, and doing chores lend themselves to introspection, even when they are done as a family.
  • Remain nonjudgmental. Ideas and creations can be flawed. The freedom to experiment, to make mistakes, and to try again is essential in fostering a creative spirit. People, particularly teens and young children, whose thoughts or creations are constantly evaluated learn to be on guard. They may even compromise their originality in an effort to meet someone else’s expectations. The creative process necessitates a certain amount of risk taking. A safe and comfortable environment in which to take risks without fear of disappointing others is important.

Nurturing creativity in children calls for resourceful, creative thinking from parents. Modeling a creative approach to problem solving and a commitment to original expression through any medium is sometimes the most effective means of fostering a creative spirit.

Sarah Boone, MA

Sarah Boone holds a master’s degree in teaching and is certified in gifted education.