A few years ago I was in an art supply store picking up a few things. As I shopped, a mother and her son came in and began looking at the supplies. From what I could tell, the boy had been given some money as a gift. He wanted to buy art supplies. He was about 7 years old and very excited about all his options. As an art teacher I was very interested in what the child would pick out. So, I watched.
The little boy picked up a modeling clay kit and asked, “Can I get this mommy?” The mother responded with, “No, that will make a mess!” So, the child put the clay down and found some tempera paints and brushes. “Can I get these mommy?” he asked again. “No, that will make a mess!” she answered. This scenario went on for several minutes as each time the child picked something up and his mother said “No!”. Finally the mother said it was time to go and the child left the store empty-handed.
To this day, I am still bothered by that parent’s response to her child’s enthusiasm and desire to create. The experience could have been so nurturing. I felt so sorry for the little boy. I wondered how the mother’s negativity would affect that child’s creativity later in life. I also tried to remember that experience when it felt like an explosion of art supplies had occurred in my art classroom. The facts are: Art supplies are messy. You might make a mess when you are being creative. The messes can always be cleaned up.
When I began this article, I thought I could write in a negative way and make a list of ways to discourage creativity in children or I could write in a positive manner. I went with positive. So in this article I am listing twenty ways to encourage creativity in children. This list includes things I have done with my students, children and grandchildren. The list is by no means the “end all” of encouraging creativity lists. The list is a start. A few things on the list are not activities at all.
If you want to encourage children to use their imaginations, to not be afraid of a blank page, to think for themselves, and to try new things; give the list a look. Some of the activities are for older children. Some require the child to be able to read and write. You can pick and choose what would be right for your child.
So, here goes:
1. Turn off the television and computer games. Don’t let your child sit all day in front of the tube or computer.
2. Provide the child with many different types of art supplies, large pieces of blank paper, a journal for writing, etc. No coloring books.
3. Provide the child with a place to work that will not create anxiety if water spills, paint splatters, or crayon shavings drop on the floor.
4. Give child an apron or old shirt to wear as a cover for good clothing.
5. Story-telling: Ask the child to tell you a story. You can start the story or help them along if they get stuck. Example: “One day a small caterpillar crawled to the end of ……………..”
This can be done with older children as a back and forth story written down. The child writes a paragraph or page of a story and then gives the story to you. You add a paragraph or page and give back to the child. These stories can get really interesting and fun! The story ends when the child decides.
6. Shape Finder: Look for shapes, creatures, or objects in clouds or rock formations. This is probably something most children and adults have done. You can do this when riding in the car or lying on the grass in the backyard.
7. Word Fun: Give the child a word. Tell them to find as many other words in that word. Make a list. Do this as a competition. Example word: creativity.
Words you can make out of creativity: city, tear, I, year, rave, tie, eat, tar, rate, etc. Get the idea?
8. Scribble Activity: Make a scribble on a large clean piece of paper. Give the paper to the child. Tell them to make something out of the scribble. They can use any art supplies you provide. They must use the whole page. The finished work can be realistic or abstract.
I usually make the mark with black marker, but anything will work. Most children are a little hesitant doing this project because they are afraid of doing the project wrong. Let the child know that there is no right or wrong way to do this activity. The main point is to have fun! The more the child does this type of activity, the more relaxed and better they do.
9. Collage Activity: Give the child a stack of old magazines. Tell the child to cut out objects, colors, textures, letters, words that they like. Spend thirty minutes leafing through the magazines and cutting. It is even more fun if the adult or parent does the activity with the child. Then you have a chance to talk about things you like, why you are cutting a certain something out, what your favorite colors are, etc.
Give the child a piece of paper. 9” x 12” is a good size paper to work with, but you could use computer paper. Have the child use a glue stick to make a collage of their cutouts. The collage can be the finished product of this activity or you can go one step further. Give the child another piece of paper the size of the collage. Have the child draw the collage on the paper and paint or color it. You will get some really interesting collages.
10. A Music Drawing: Give the child a very large piece of paper. 18” x 24” is a good size. Tape the paper to a drawing board or table top. Protect whatever is under the paper from the child accidentally drawing off the page. (You will understand in a second.) Give child a pencil or washable marker.
Turn on some music. Classical, heavy metal, whatever, will work as long as the music has a good beat. Tell the child to close their eyes and feel the rhythm of the music. Spend a moment just moving to the music. Then, with their eyes closed, tell the child to draw the rhythm or beat they feel on the paper. The child needs to keep their eyes closed the whole time. The pencil or marker should never be lifted from the paper.
I have found that this activity works best if the child is standing because they can move around easier. Your job is to gently guide their hand back to the paper if they get off course. Have the child draw like this for 2 to 3 minutes.
When the drawing is done, the creativity begins. The page will be full of shapes (enclosed areas surrounded by the lines drawn). Give the child whatever art supplies you have to add color to the drawing. Let them get inventive. They can color, add lines, add designs of their own making, write words within the shapes, etc. If your child has a hard time deciding what to do here are a few examples to get them started:
a) Draw yellow triangles in all the shapes that touch the four corners of the paper.
b) Color the shapes on the edge alternating with red and orange.
c) Fill the shape in the center of the page with hearts. Color the background black, leaving the actual hearts white.
d) Draw zigzag lines in the shapes touching the shape filled with hearts.
11. Praise the child!
12. Please do not criticize or critique the work.
13. Depending on the age of the child place their artwork in a place of prominence, like the refrigerator or a special shelf.
14. Tell your child how proud you are of them.
15. Call your child an “artist”.
16. Tell your child they are talented.
17. Say something positive about their work even if you don’t really care for it. Change the praise up. Don’t say all of these things at the same time. Be sincere in your praise.
18. Give your child’s art a purpose; such as, card for a sick relative, painting for a gift, etc.
19. Have a home gallery art show. Invite friends over for refreshments and time to view your child’s art work.
20. Help your child create a portfolio of their work.
Encouraging creativity in children is something I feel very strongly about. I hope this list will persuade you to encourage a child.
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