Updated: Apr 27
“Let’s get the kids together this weekend for an innovation date- maybe they can start brainstorming the broken garage door motor.” This probably isn’t a thought you’ve had recently, though “Who is this wacky lady and what is she talking about?” might be one, currently. Play dates like this have been on my mind lately because creativity now impacts kids down the road.
When someone says creativity, the first word that generally pops into my head is “Pinterest”. After that, probably “glue.” Interestingly, building a masterpiece is really only one type of creativity . Another important type involves critical thinking, or looking at a challenge in a creative way. This is sometimes called ‘applied creativity’. When we talk about the qualities we would like the kids around us to have as adults, maybe we think we’d like them to have integrity, motivation, and confidence (we’ve actually done a survey on this, and these were the top three results!) and maybe we don’t think “creative” is quite as high on the list. What if I told you that in addition to artists and inventors, often CEOs, Entrepreneurs, Engineers, Scientists, web-developers, teachers, and Occupational Therapists, and even students benefit from high levels of creativity. Creativity can help people look at a situation and assess a need, and devise a plan to address the need. This can be as simple as figuring out a mechanism to make something around the house work better, or as complex as fixing the water supply in a town. We’ve talked to dozens of professionals in many different sectors and each has a story about how much they love to see an adult with creative approaches come in and figure out ways to improve the way things work. Creativity is a hot commodity!
So, if you don’t consider yourself creative, are you in trouble? This is a trick question. We talk about creativity like we have it or don’t, like we are born with it or we aren’t. Studies have shown, though, that our experiences have a lot to do with each of our ability to be creative. It’s not entirely based on our genetics, although that can give us some initial advantages. In other words, if we aren’t working that muscle, it’s not getting any stronger! What does this mean for raising creative kids? That we can help them strengthen their creativity! And guess what? You’re already doing things to facilitate this type of growth. Providing a large box to design into a fort or giving kids art supplies with no end goal are activities that flex the creativity muscle. (If you’re thinking, “My child gets anxious if they don’t know exactly what to make” then you can start by offering a few options, ie: “Can you use these supplies to create something you’d like to dream about or a place you’d like to go?”) Even a craft kit with a predetermined outcome (like a foam pumpkin craft) can become more helpful in building creativity by using the directive “I wonder how many different ways each of us can think of to make this this.”
Another option for helping kids (and ourselves) build the skill of creativity is discussing problems and solutions. Instead of rushing to solve something, it is helpful for kids to hear a list of options. If something goes wrong, it can be really helpful to brainstorm ways that it can be repaired. For example, if you and your child are baking and you find that you’re missing a necessary ingredient, instead of quietly solving the issue, you might stop and ask the child what possible solutions they can think of (some examples might be run to the store, think of some things that could replace the ingredient, look up replacement options on the internet, borrow some from a neighbor). Even if the solution offered isn’t feasible, it can be a great opportunity to explore why it will or won’t work, and this knowledge can be applied down the road. It is nice for kids to practice these skills in relatively low-risk situations. The good news for us is that even the awareness that we want to build creativity can help us do it—which is why the people around me might occasionally hear me utter “What are some other creative solutions?” under my breath. This prompt alone is a great stepping stone to thinking outside of the box.
I’d love to hear some ideas that others have of activities to foster creativity- and let me know how that innovation play-date goes!