The Creativity Crisis: What we can do as parents to help our child be successful through play and the arts

Laura KBefore I was a parent, I considered myself to be not as creative as many other friends and family. I struggled with crafts and felt frustrated with the outcome of my artistic projects. I worried that I would pass along this clumsy-with-art-trait to my son, but also felt like well, being artistic and creative isn’t that important is it? Can’t I rely on teachers to help me teach these things? And isn’t my toddler just a little young to really get it?

In researching for this article and working our PAT and APP geniuses, the answers I found made it starkly clear that I was wrong. In fact, creativity is essential for our little ones to develop healthy and flexible brains, schools often do not nurture creativity in the most helpful ways, and the ages of zero- three are critical in building our creative muscles.

As I started reading, I first had to expand my understanding of what creativity is and how it is important to life. A famous study of creativity led by Torrance defines creativity as making something original that is useful. It requires two types of thinking: divergent (generating many different ideas) and convergent thinking (combining these ideas into the greatest result.) It turns out that children are perfectly designed to be amazingly creative thinkers. Consider that the nursery rhyme, the way we sing to children, the bright colors we surround them with are all designed to stimulate their love of learning through playful engagement. The challenge for parents is not to build creativity per say, but to protect their creativity from the rigidity and overwhelming busyness we experience in the adult world. To quote a famous author, Ursula Le Guin, “The creative adult is the child who survived.” The parent who wants to support this essential survival of creativity must both understand its value, and be clear on how to encourage it.

We are living in a time that has been dubbed ‘The Creativity Crisis.’ Technology and the career opportunities are constantly changing, making flexible critical thinking essential as a life skill. Creativity is needed not only to meet the demands of a changing workplace, but to approach the many problems existing in society today. Despite a high need for creative thinkers, the Creativity Crisis is that our children are becoming less and less creative. Compared to IQ scores, which tend to go up 10 points each generation, American creativity scores are falling for the first time ever.

Researchers name a few possible reasons for this decline in creativity. 1) The many hours our kids spend watching TV and playing video games, 2) Our focus on standardized curriculum and testing, limiting creativity in the classroom 3) Kids spending less time engaged in free play 4) The toys we give our children require less imagination. 4) Parents not valuing free play and giving this play/art time attention.

So what can we do to protect and nurture our children’s creativity? The most important thing we can do as parents is to give our child the opportunity to be creative and to expose them to creativity. We can do this with art, by providing interesting materials, just enough structure to get her/him started, and by being present and positive while they create. We can focus on the process and not the product, and praise our kids for their unique ways of approaching a project. We can let them solve their own problems and make choices whenever possible. We can let them make a mess and even take the time to make a mess with them! We can put down the flash cards, put aside our anxiety about having dinner started on time, and watch them as they build a tower from sticks and rocks. We can limit TV and game time and encourage them to play with objects or toys which require imagination. We can let them wield sticks as swords and teach them how to take these risks and still be safe. We can take risks ourselves and offer our children the example of learning/living creatively. In addition to these broad ideas, I have included some more specific example of promoting creativity below. Thank you for all you do as parents to support kids in retaining and building their natural gifts for creativity!

The following is a list of 18 practical ways to promote creativity and imagination in young toddlers! Click here for the full article. Further resources are the Artful Parent for ideas on art projects and please visit our ELC for creative kits which match your child’s developmental level.

1. Don’t criticize his ideas.
2. Encourage her to solve her own problems.
3. Let him make choices – about what they wear, what they eat, what they want to do, etc.
4. Enjoy the arts – visit an art museum, go to a concert, or watch a play or dance performance.
5. Read books.
6. Engage with your child while she’s using her imagination.
7. Let him help with chores.
8. Let her play with other kids that are her age. The imagination’s possibilities are endless when two toddlers are playing together.
9. Expose him to a variety of settings.
10. Let her play without toys.
11. Provide toys that encourage the imagination and creativity such as simple musical instruments, simple wooden toys, and dolls with simple features.
12. Let her play alone.
13. Give gifts of experiences instead of toys for birthday and holidays.
14. Indulge his interests.
15. Limit time spent watching TV, playing with fancy/loud/obnoxious toys, or in confining environments where a toddler must act a certain way (like in a restaurant or around certain people)..
16. Give your toddler random items and see what he comes up with.
17. Provide safe zones all around your house that let your toddler explore.
18. Give your toddler safe places where they can be physical.

Come and explore the Creative Process at the 13th Annual Art in the Park on September 3rd from 5:30 – 7:00pm, hosted by Children & Family Resource Center’s Parents as Teachers Program. Parents of children under the age of eight are encouraged to come and participate in a variety of art activities. Join us in discovering that art at an early age is more about the “process” than the product. You and your child will be involved in messy play outside, so please dress accordingly. This event is open to the public and free of charge. Light food and refreshments will also be provided. East Flat Rock Park is south on Spartanburg Highway, ½ mile past the Upward Road intersection, behind East Flat Rock School on the left.

To learn more about Art in The Park, click here.

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