Setting the Stage for Creativity in Kids

by: Dan Florell, Ph.D.

The boy was hard at work with his scissors, tape, and glue. He had spent his entire free period in kindergarten working on his creation. When his teachers asked him what he had been working on so hard, he held up his paper whip and paper hat. “I want to be Indiana Jones and we didn’t have his outfit in class,” explained the boy.

The process of creativity is one which can be difficult to define but most of us can appreciate it when we see it. Creativity is actually a very specific type of problem-solving process. In order for children to be able to solve problems creatively, they need to possess several skills. The good news is that parents, teachers and other adults can help foster creativity in all children.

The first skill children need to be creative is to have the motivation to complete a task. Typically the problems that children spend the most time on are the ones that they take pleasure in doing, like puzzles. In addition to enjoying the time spent solving a problem, children need to have the confidence that they can solve the problem. When these two traits are in place, children are more likely to tackle problems head on.

Parents can encourage motivation to complete a task by sharing with their children when they are doing something for the sake of enjoyment. They can also pay attention when children are taking the initiative and verbally praise them. In addition, children should be encouraged to be as independent as possible when they are working to achieve something important to them.

A second skill that is needed is to have a broad general knowledge base and a more in-depth specific knowledge base in a particular area. For example, a child who loves playing Minecraft has specific knowledge of the game but she also has more general knowledge of various types of games. This combination of knowledge allows children to see unique solutions to a problem and encourages creativity.

Parents can encourage knowledge acquisition by exposing children to a wide variety of activities and allow their children to decide which activities to pursue further. If children choose a particular activity, then parents should have them commit to spending some time participating in it even when it is no longer fun. This is often seen when children try a sport for the first time and parents insist they play until the end of the season. This teaches follow through and persistence to children.

A third skill is to display everyday creativity. Creativity is a mindset and the more often it is used, the more often it will occur. Everyday creativity includes using brainstorming activities, encouraging humor and playfulness, and imagination. Parents can encourage their children to stretch themselves by allowing for some flexibility and spontaneity in a day’s schedule. They should also appreciate and encourage children who have unique ideas that may be different from other children and not viewing the children as weird.

A final skill is developing a sense of objectivity. This means having the ability to evaluate one’s progress. Inevitably problem solving and creativity involve frustration. Children need to learn how to cope with frustration and deal with failure. Parents should avoid jumping in to solve children’s problems too soon. Failure teaches children their limitations. It also allows children who fail to pick themselves up and learn from their mistakes which then makes them more willing to try new things and persist even when obstacles appear.

Creativity does not occur in a vacuum. Parents and teachers have to create an environment that encourages creativity. This includes allowing children to have the freedom to explore a wide range of topics, finding the joy in solving difficult problems, having the flexibility to express different viewpoints and solutions to those problems, and being able to objectively assess their skills and deal with frustration. Children in this type of environment will inevitably become creative and we get to enjoy what that creativity will bring.

This article was published in the Richmond Register daily Sunday on May 25, 2014.

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