Young children never cease to amaze me. I love how they move through life, seemingly uninhibited, and just have a plain old go at things. Their innate creativity shines through in all that they do. As parents it’s up to us to nurture that creative mindset and encouraging creative play.
Creativity is of vital importance for healthy child development. Through creative and imaginative play children grow in confidence, independence and resilience. They get to practice social skills, emotion regulation and get to experiment with problem solving and decision making. All these skills are necessary to equip young minds adequately for an unknown future.
For children to be able to express their creativity fully, they need to have the freedom to do so. I hope the following tips will help you navigate common pitfalls and give you some practical tips for getting creative with your children.
Top Tips for Encouraging Creative Play
Less toys is more play
When you are planning on turning the level of creativity in your family way up, the first thing I recommend you to do is to have a good clean out of toys. Get rid of anything they don’t play with anyway, is broken or you’re ready to move on from. Ideally you want to have a selection of classic open ended toys available for play and put other things aside in boxes that you can rotate or get out for quiet time or other occasions.
With less toys, children will become less overwhelmed and more deliberate in their play. It will increase focus, help encouraging creative play and allows room for imagination to flourish.
This is especially important for young children, who easily get over-stimulated by an abundance of plastic bright coloured toys that make lots of noise. Put those aside for a while in favour of wooden blocks, play silks and heuristic discovery baskets.
Give children time
It was Jean Piaget who so famously said the creativity was born out of boredom. Somehow the days of entertaining yourself or hanging out with siblings while mommy does her jobs around the house have turned into organised activities and scheduled play dates. With the rise of technological gadgets, children are always and easily entertained. It’s tempting to get onto that bandwagon, I get that, but it doesn’t do your child any favours.
While we can’t ignore the fast paced lifestyle all around us nor can we ignore technology, we can create safe havens in our own homes. We can slow down family life and cut down on screen time in favour of spending time together and … be bored.
For very young children that often means simply carving out time to sit down on the living room floor and have a little random play. Follow your child’s lead and interests and try to observe rather than engage. Magda Gerber called it “wants for nothing time”, when children are simply happy for you being near without needing you to do anything.
Slowly but surely children will discover (or re-discover) what it means to get lost in play, and what greater gift can we give them than time to do just that.
Nothing will engage children’s senses and imagination like nature does. Wherever you live, I’m sure (I hope!) there’s a bit of nature accessible not too far from you. Find a forest where kids can collect branches, build forts or climb trees. Go to the beach for some seashell collecting, sand castle building or wave jumping. Find a river or lake or pond to throw some stones in. Or keep it very simple: have a play in the sand pit or find the nearest mud puddle to jump in. Encouraging creative play can be as simple as that.
Provide a variety of experiences
Have you ever heard of the Theory of Loose Parts? In short, it states that the more material children have to work with, the more creative they will be. And while in most cases this theory refers to actual physical materials, I believe the same goes for experiences.
We often stick with what we know and get comfortable in that zone. It pays to explore beyond that.
New experiences create new connections in the brain and offer new opportunities for learning, creating knowledge that children can draw on later in life.
Introduce children to new materials and activities and try something new together. You can for example set up a sensory bin using a play recipe you haven’t tried before, have a go at a simple scientific experiment or give something like geocaching a go.
Involve children in adult projects
Creativity is not reserved for the selected few in this world, it’s not something you have or don’t have. The beauty in creativity is in its process, the process of experimenting and learning.
When children get to work alongside adults, they will experience this process firsthand. They’ll see that everyone needs to start somewhere and that learning a new skill is a process. They’ll notice that creating something can take time, effort and careful planning. And they’ll realise that not everyone has the same talents or interests and that that is ok.
Working together on projects (or letting them watch) can really foster a creative family vibe, a ‘can do’ and ‘give it a go’ culture that creative minds thrive on.
Don’t fear the mess
People who know me know that I don’t do mess very well. Yet, when they come into my studio, it’s utter chaos. It’s because I’m creating.
While I can’t stress the importance of thoughtfully presented and maintained play areas enough, once children are ‘in the zone’, all bets are off. Giving children the freedom to use the space, spread out materials, experiment, combine, tip over, move around, hide, build and take apart again allows them to fully engage their creative impulses. More is more in this case.
Before you panic at the thought alone, let me assure you that with some careful planning it is entirely possible to set up the environment in such a way that it is all manageable. And of course you reserve the right to set boundaries where you see fit. Creative freedom does not equal anarchy after all.
One of the first rules of improvisation is to always say yes. For encouraging creative play, say yes to crazy ideas even when they defy all logic and common sense.
Say yes to requests for stories, tree huts and silliness. Even when you can’t make it happen in the literal sense of the way, take the kids on a creative adventure. When my daughter asked to go to the zoo the other day I said yes. “We can’t get there ourselves today with but we can surely make a zoo here in our living room. What do you think we’ll need?”
With some creative thinking you can probably say yes to just about anything. It’s a great way to nurture creativity within the family and have some good old fashioned fun.
Set up invitations to play
Setting up invitations to play is a great way to introduce children to new materials and gently encouraging creative play (and independent play!).
I think it’s important to remember that not all children have the same drive to explore, the same attention span or desire to play by themselves. We’re all wired differently and it’s important to recognise and acknowledge that in children. (Keep your expectations realistic and your frustration level low.)
Invitations to play are just that: an invitation. It creates an opportunity to open that door to creative and imaginative play. In young children it can be a good idea to scaffold their play for a while by playing alongside them until they get to that stage of comfortable independent play (which might take a while!)
You can set up invitations to play or create from just about anything using craft materials, play dough, toy animals, story baskets, household items, blocks and so on. The younger the children are the simpler you might want to keep it.
Encouraging Creative Play is an ongoing Process
I can keep adding to this list and write an article about each topic. But I hope these top tips of mine to encourage creative play in small children will help you nurturing creativity within your family in some way.
When reading this though, it’s important to keep in mind that creativity is a mindset, a process and not a product. The toddler stacking blocks is just as creative as the preschooler drawing farm animals. Projects don’t always have to be mind blowing or elaborate. It’s often in the smallest things that children surprise us with their creative thinking. Be sure not to miss those moments for they are very precious indeed and hold great hope for the future!
18 Activities that Encourage Creativity in Young Children, is a follow up article I wrote which I hope will leave you with plenty of inspiration to get started.
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PS This article was written for the Big Creative Adventure, an on line summit for parents on creativity and family culture, which was held in April 2016 and it appeared first on thebigcreativeadventure.com .