Raising a creative child
Every child is an artist.
The problem is how to remain an artist.
- Pablo Picasso
The arts (music, drama, art) and children’s play are powerful avenues for children to express creativity and imagination. Everyone is creative. Being creative doesn’t just mean producing a beautiful painting or piece of music. You are creative when you produce something original. It might be an idea, a process, a product, or a way to solve a problem.
Creativity is easy to see in the ‘arts’ but it occurs every day in the ordinary lives of people, especially children. When children play, explore their environments, solve problems, invent games, and write stories they are expressing their unique imagination and their ability to think and act creatively.
Through creative play and the arts children can:
- Recognise and express their feelings
- Communicate ideas
- Develop their senses
- Develop awareness and appreciation of beauty
- Enhance self-concept
- Develop awareness of skills
When children engage in creative endeavours it is not the final product that is important, but rather the learning journey and the process that occurs along the way.
Some children will express themselves creatively in all areas. Others may take years to find their creative avenue. What’s most important is firstly that they are given the opportunity to create and secondly that we as parents are accepting and encouraging of what they create.
If children feel that their ‘work’ must meet adult standards they are more likely to produce stereotypical pieces that limit and confine their true creativity. So how can we provide an environment that stimulates and encourages children’s natural creativity?
- Have a wide range of materials on hand for when the creative moment strikes. Be ready with pens, paper, paint, boxes, paper plates, sticky tape, scarves and basic dress ups (second hand shops are great for these), chalk, play dough, clay, favourite music (theirs and yours). Something as simple as seeing ballet on TV or the clouds turning a certain colour at sunset can be the spark for a creative endeavour.
- Encourage different ways of looking at things. Does the sky always have to be blue? When drawing with children, try drawing things from side view or top view rather than always front on. After making a home-made instrument, see how many different sounds you can get from it by using it in different ways.
- Make creative endeavours a part of everyday life. Sing in the bath; dance all the way to the bedroom; draw/paint a picture to leave on the pillow of someone special.
- Go to art galleries, theatre productions and music concerts. Check local papers to see what’s on. There is always a wide range of artistic performances and exhibitions available for children. If it’s not within your budget, check at your local library. Many have a wonderful range of artistic workshops and events that children of all ages can attend for free.
- Play with your children. Time to play is being eaten up daily by all too busy lives. Try to put time aside every week to play with your children. Roar like a dinosaur; dress up like a pirate; be the customer in their sandpit bakery shop; climb up into the tree house (if you’re allowed!); dance with them (to your favourite music and theirs). While the creativity of children’s play leaves no lasting product, it is just as important to recognise and encourage as other forms of creativity.
- Provide creative play materials. Many commercially available toys have very limited scope and can inhibit creativity. Begin a collection of more open-ended play materials that will enhance creativity. Try large pieces of single coloured material in different textures; collections of shells, seedpods, wooden beads and beautiful pebbles. Find some odd shaped wood off cuts, sand them back and rub with furniture oil for a beautiful texture (children can help with this).
- If you’re very short on time and a little short on your own creative spirit, there is a wide range of classes available for children. Most of these classes involving dance, music, and movement provide the stimulus, ideas and even materials to follow up at home. But don’t fall into the trap of paying to have someone else guide your child’s creative spirit. Join in, let your children see you being involved and carry on creating at home.
Children respond to music from the very first moments of life. They can be soothed by quiet music and excited by strong, fast rhythms. Music evokes and describes feelings and provides a creative outlet.
Moving to music is a natural response: we tap our toes, nod our heads and sway our bodies almost without realising.
Allowing children the space and time to respond to a wide range of music allows them to begin to develop a sense of creativity and imagination. Musical experiences can involve listening, performing, composing, improvising and singing.
Young children should have access to a range of simple percussion instruments (tambourines, hand drums, maracas, bells etc.) Home-made instruments can be fun to make and just as much fun to play with.
Drama teacher Elly Varrenti believes that children need more drama in their lives. She says that instilling in children the importance of a cultural-artistic language with which to interpret and inhabit the world is crucial. To perform is to test and expand the imagination, to learn compassion and empathy.
Children naturally take on roles in their dramatic play and as they dramatise stories and scenes. For very young children, creative drama and movement are closely connected and can be as simple as ‘bouncing like a ball’ or ‘hopping like a rabbit’.
Creative drama for young children involves their interpretation of stories and ideas rather than memorisation of scripts and lines.
Children will continue simple informal play-performance well into their primary years if this natural inclination is encouraged and supported. Join in with their spontaneous games. Don a cardboard eye patch and be a loud, swashbuckling pirate; toss on some sparkling beads and tiptoe through the woods to find out what the rest of the fairy children are up to.
Allow children access to simple dress ups. These can be commercial or home-made or just a few flexible pieces of material. Large pieces of cloth can be twisted and tied into hats, scarves, skirts, tails, bandanas or capes.
Art provides opportunities for young children to explore and manipulate materials as well as to express their feelings and understanding of their world in a creative and imaginative way.
As with all of the arts for young children it is the creative process that is important. The value of the end product is the feelings and awareness that it generates in the child. It can be difficult for parents to accept the messiness and non- productive nature of children’s artistic expression.
But, it is important for us as parents to look past the messiness to the wonderful avenue of creative expression that art allows young children.
Remember that art is more than paint and paper. Try to provide access to a wide range of artistic possibilities. Include collage, printing, modelling and sculpting, construction and drawing.
Through their business Consultants at Play, early childhood teachers Leanne Hunter and Lisa Sonter offer educators and parents practical strategies, information and support in order to promote an understanding of play as an effective and vital concept that encourages creative expression.
They believe that play provides opportunities for children to develop and work on their own ideas, captures children’s interests, and encourages creative decision-making. Playing with children helps send the message that their time spent playing is worthwhile and valued.
Encouraging creative play with open-ended play materials
Children who have spent most of their time using commercially produced toys sometimes have difficulty with more creative materials. Try showing your children how.
- A long blue silk scarf can be a waterfall, a river, a cape, a pirate bandana, a kite (tied to a stick to run with), or a mermaid’s tail (tied around waist and add a few sparkly brooches)
- The sandpit can be a pirate’s cove with buried treasure; a bakery (add old muffin tins, bowls, spoons and measuring cups); a dinosaur garden (use a large bowl of blue water for a pond and add a few fern leaves, sticks and rocks.)
- A big cardboard box (available from electrical stores) can be a rocket, a boat, a magic car, or a gingerbread house. Just add paint, scissors, glue, paper, sticky tape, paper plates, string and, of course, some imagination and creativity.
By Adele Amorsen
Useful books and websites
Usborne - 50 Things to Make and Do & Usborne - 50 Things to Draw and Paint
Each set contains 50 cards with a creative activity on each. Fully illustrated with step-by-step instructions, the cards are durable and robust enough for repeated use. Both available at Gr8toys.
Lots of ideas from the Art Attack TV show.
Primary School Creative Arts – large list of creative arts websites.
This article was first published in Australian Family Magazine, November 2006. Updated July 2009.