With more children sitting home than years before, it can be tricky fielding all the “I’m bored” comments from them daily. While it might be easier to tell them tall tales of times when we didn’t have computers or animatronic toys to keep us entertained, we could foster something much more beneficial for them by sparking their creativity.
Creativity can strengthen a child’s self-esteem, fine motor skills, and prepare them to think outside the box for everyday problems they face. While many assume that children are simply born with expansive imaginations, some can use a little prompting to get the ideas going. By encouraging creativity, you can set them up for an easier time learning new ideas and developing social skills.
When someone thinks “creativity” images of paint and art supplies sprawled across tabletops and onto floors may come to mind, and they’re a big part! But here are some more tips to help get the creative juices flowing.
1. Let Them Lead During Play Time and Storytelling
As parents and educators, we can be bossy. Letting our children lead the way we play can positively influence their confidence. We should give them the freedom to play out the game how they want while following their lead. Which can cause us less stress too. Now we don’t have to pick up the barbie and make up the stories for her, we can just ask our children “so what are they going to do next?”. Let the child tell you that the cars are going to have a race and ask questions such as “what is the prize?” or “what can we do to make them faster?”. By asking these questions we put the storyline in their hands and it gets their brains thinking creatively with the freedom to say Barbie is going on a space mission and the cars are racing for a cupcake.
This goes for sitting around telling stories as well. We want our children to know factual information so when they say they are a bear that lives on cotton candy in the ocean; we have to roll with it and not point out that bears should live in caves in forests eating trout. While learning and fun can co-exist, we should let the children forge their ways of expression. So kick back and let them tell you about outlandish adventures and ask them supporting questions. You’ll see how far they can go once we relax and stop controlling their train of thought.
2. Praise Effort Not Necessarily the Results
Whether we’re building with blocks, Legos, or painting a picture, it’s all about the journey, not always about what you end up with. Shaky block towers, Lego houses without a door, paintings that run amuck, it’s all part of the creative process! Instead of telling them what they can do differently, ask them what they think they can do to improve it next time. Find time to tell them what you like about their piece and offer advice only if asked. Things such as “I see you worked so hard on your tower, I like how you built it up so high!” and if their rebuttal is something about making it more sturdy you can answer “How do you think you can make it stronger? Maybe you can start with the bottom”.
Join in on the activity! We just spoke about letting the child lead while resisting the urge to jump in and correct them, so this applies here as well. Work with your child, ask questions, give encouragement and guide them when they ask for it without completing the task for them. If your child is painting and it’s not going their way, instead of immediately pulling them out a new sheet of paper, you can encourage them to complete what they started while complimenting what they’ve done well so far. Get them thinking of what they can turn it into, or what they can add by using open-ended questions.
3. Let Them Get Bored
This is tough. We might roll our eyes just thinking of it . Between going to school, getting their chores done, any extracurriculars, and screen time, it seems like there are plenty of things to keep the kids busy. Still, they’ll feel it eventually, and they utter the dreaded “I’m bored”. I’m here to tell you to not just throw a game or coloring books at them, let them figure it out themselves! As parents, some of us feel like we need to always entertain our children, but personally, that leaves me feeling like a one-person circus most days. It might surprise you with what they can come up with on their own when given the downtime.
When children have to entertain themselves, it allows them to open up their imagination and get motivated to find something.
Pamela Paul from the NY Times wrote “The ability to handle boredom, not surprisingly, is correlated with the ability to focus and to self-regulate.” in her article Let Children Get Bored Again.
She’s right! By learning how to navigate their boredom, children will handle the monotonous school work and chores more comfortably. This builds their confidence and self-sufficiency.
4. Find New Material That Makes Crafting More Exciting
Craft supplies are an obvious must when you’re trying to spark your child’s creativity. But you can get all the pencils, crayons, playdoh, paint, and scissors you want and the kids might still stare at you wide-eyed, waiting for you to make something exciting. This is where we have to get creative ourselves.
While regular markers work just fine, maybe you can pick up a pack of scented ones and it’ll give your child the idea to draw the delightful scents they smell! Glitter can become fairy dust, and special pencils can become magic storytelling wands. Keep the supplies in neat little containers and you can set apart space – think the corner of a room or table in the kitchen – or designate a time for a creation time. Better to stock up on more craft supplies than those tiny toys that get lost everywhere, I’d say.
5. Be Creative Yourself!
If you model creative behavior, the chances are the children will mirror it. As adults, this doesn’t have to just mean making sock puppets and painting rainbows – even though that sounds like a lot of fun! – but you can get creative with cooking dinner. Ask them to help with adding spices or sauces. Take up reading or painting and lead the way in a creative direction.
You can hang their pictures on the walls creating their own art gallery that they can show off to family. Which will show your kids that not only do you value their art but that they should be proud of themselves as well. The more important you make creativity to yourself, the more it’ll seem important to your children.
To spark creativity in your children, take time to find it in yourself too. Start exploring museums and going to the local theatre for plays. Set time away from the screens to ask questions and make up stories. Use the creative help during dinner time to substitute ingredients or try out new ones. Sit back and let your child solve their own playtime problems. This will help children grow not only their creative thinking but their self-reliance, confidence and hopefully finding a new hobby along the way!
My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.