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When I was eight years old I decided to build my own trailer—my own space in which to live. I figured I could put it together out of scrap lumber and have my own private home in our back yard. My fatal flaw was deciding to start with the wheels. I tried to saw circles of plywood using a handsaw. I failed and not only did I fail, my family laughed at me.

Had my parents known the value of encouraging children in creative ventures, I might not have had my dream shattered. I might have learned from my mistake, and even had support to try again. As it was, I never tried to build anything on my own again. I didn’t learn the basics of woodwork and I gave up on my fantasy of a private space created by my own hands.

This, of course, is not the ultimate tragedy. I had a happy childhood and loving parents. I moved on.

Today we know that children blossom when given the chance to try their wings at creative ventures such as my little trailer. We know that, given time and space in which to create games, adventures, and story lines, children will definitely come up with their own ideas. We want to encourage creativity, but don’t always know where to begin. Here are some thoughts on fostering creativity in our children.

 Why it’s important:

A creative mind is able to see the world with new eyes. When given permission, a creative mind will see new possibilities, new solutions, and more than one traditional answer to a question. A creative mind sees new connections, entertains ideas that others might toss aside as impractical, and is willing to fail many times before finally succeeding. Such minds are essential to problem solving. And creativity is not only useful in the artistic world, it’s also important in the world of science, math and technology. What may seem like a wild dream today could be the commonly-used technology of the future.

Many child development specialists and psychologists believe that creativity is more a skill to be learned than an inherent gift. Allowing children to explore ideas freely without judgments leads to healthy self-expression and self-confidence. A confident child will try something new, take a risk and perhaps, grow to be a more successful adult. While the world needs those who can organize and maintain, it also needs those with the ability to see new possibilities—the dreamers, the visionaries. Creativity is a skill we want to develop in our children.

There is a positive social aspect to creative play as well. Children who pretend together will practice cooperation, sharing and many other positive social traits. They’ll learn to listen to the ideas of others and then work together as they make up a story or put together the “fort” or the “castle.”


What hinders the development of creativity?

Creative processes take time and they can be messy. They require a certain adult mindset in which children are allowed to explore, to pretend and to “make up their own rules.” It can be a challenge to allow children the freedom required to be truly creative. And, if a child wants to play a game of knights and dragons, he may be better off to use an old blanket and a stick than an elaborate costume with a real suit of armor and a plastic sword. The creativity comes in the pretending—in the making something out of found objects.

Creative play requires an open-ended plot with dialogue that happens naturally. It doesn’t happen when children sit in front of a screen with moving figures in front of their eyes. It comes when they become the actors themselves. Children will create their own script and add their own action if left to their own devices. Some children may need a nudge to begin the process of creative play. A suggestion such as “Do you think you’ll catch the dragon today, Sir Lancelot?” or “What will the queen want for tea today?” may be enough to launch the storyline.

When adults impose too many restrictions on children’s play, or allow too much time spent watching television or movies, many opportunities for creative play are lost.

 What promotes creativity?

An atmosphere of creativity is one in which children are allowed unstructured play time. The play is child-directed and non-commercial. There are no rewards or incentives given for play because it is a natural part of everyday experience. Time and space are given for play times and there is permission to “make a mess.”

Supplies are available for creative projects. These will include all manner of supplies and props from art supplies to dress-up clothing, to old real-life items such as old cameras, typewriters, tools, and anything else that might be used in pretend play.

The effort to accomplish a task is honored whether or not there is a finished product to hang on the wall. Children will learn that it’s okay to try something and fail. Perhaps the failure will be a step toward problem solving a future project.