We are all innate learners. Human beings are filled with curiosity, creativity, and imagination. Over time, however, in what seems to have become a rite of passage into adulthood, people tend to conform more and more to the expectations of society. Slowly, as we age, we abandon our originality and replace it with functionality.
Perhaps it’s nervous parents wanting to make sure that Billy or Susie follows the rules. Maybe it’s the right or wrong culture in our schools. Or it could be pressure from peers to fit in.
Regardless of the reason, creativity dwindles as children get older. “Why” and “how” are replaced by “what” and “when”. We replace wonder and imagination with deadlines and worry. How do we stop this from happening? How can we foster creativity in children?
The Importance of Creativity
The Future of Jobs Report from the World Economic Forum ranked creativity as the third most important skill for workers in 2020, up from tenth in 2015. Creativity ranked behind only critical thinking (#2) and complex problem solving (#1). All three skills are closely related.
So if creativity is such an important skill, why does it seem to get squashed early on? And more importantly, how can we foster creativity in children?
Our schools champion right over wrong. We see it in high stakes testing, we see it on report cards, and we see it in the way some teachers respond to students. In a TED Talk titled, “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”, Sir Ken Robinson takes a humorous, yet pointed stand against the direction in which schools are headed. If you haven’t seen this talk yet, please take 20 minutes, you won’t regret it.
Have you ever observed a kindergarten or first-grade classroom? The teacher asks a question, and twenty hands shoot up into the air to answer — some kids are literally coming up out of their seats. They’re DYING to be called on!
Well, I am a high school teacher.
I ask questions, and besides my usual few, brave souls, I see a bunch of students staring down at the ground praying they won’t be called on. But what’s sad, is that often times when I do call on those students, they get the answer correct. They knew the answer, they were 99% sure they knew it, but that 1% was enough to hold them back.
That fear wasn’t caused by me or any other teacher. It’s a direct result of the hypersensitivity to fitting in that so many adolescents have. Unfortunately, the pressing and constant desire to fit in makes it hard for kids to be creative, unique and different.
As parents, how do we foster creativity in children? How do we support it? In what ways do we model creativity? Parents need to teach kids that it’s okay to fail, it’s okay to be different, and it’s okay to take chances. Have fun, be patient, and show them the world (without squeezing their hand too tight).
7 Ways to Foster Creativity
1. Encourage a Growth Mindset
If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning.Carol dweck
- Avoids challenges
- Believes failures define who they are
- Is offended by criticism
- Gives up easily
- “I can’t do it”
- “I’m not smart enough”
- Believes intelligence is set
- Embraces challenges
- Uses criticism in constructive ways
- Believes effort leads to understanding
- Works through difficult problems
- “I will learn how to to do this”
- Believes intelligence increases with hard work
Help kids realize that intelligence is not innate and unchanging. Lead them to the realization that effort and hard work lead to results and that every bump in the road is an opportunity for growth and learning. Encourage them to seek the help of others and to admit when they don’t understand or are confused. And allow the word “yet” to become a major part of your vernacular. “I can’t do that” becomes “I can’t do that yet”. “I don’t know” becomes “I don’t know yet”. You can learn more about Carol Dweck’s research here or pick up a copy of her influential book, Mindset: The Psychology of Success.
2. Let Them Carve Their Own Path
I loved baseball growing up. I still love it now. My two boys, C and B, are about to start playing Tee Ball and Farm League in a few weeks. I would love it if they found as much joy as I did in baseball. But, guess what? They might not. They may both decide that it’s not for them and want to move on to lacrosse or piano, or maybe they just want to spend time at home doing board games or puzzles or reading books. And that’s okay. I want to allow my kids to follow their passions. Guide them along the way, of course, but also let them carve their own path.
3. Let Them Explore
Adults follow paths, children explore.Neil Gaiman
Take kids places and let them experience as much as possible. Go out in nature, go to the library, go to the grocery store, go fishing. Ask them open-ended questions that will make them think. Let them ask you the millions of questions that are constantly running through their little brains. And have fun while doing it! Don’t know the answer? No big deal. Look it up with your kids. That can be fun as well. Kids are really good at having fun, and we should be encouraging them to have as much of it as possible.
4. Give Them Freedom
Children should have enough freedom to be themselves – once they’ve learned the rules.Anna Quindlen
Keep them safe, but let them make their own choices. Freedom is one of the most important factors to help kids foster creativity. As my kids get older, I know I am going to struggle with this one. How long do we allow the leash to get? Where is that perfect balance between a child who is coddled too much and a child who has too much freedom? It’s another of the many tightropes that parents have to walk. But it’s important to give them the freedom to make mistakes and not smother them.
5. Let Them Know It’s Okay to Fail
If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.sir ken robinson
Society has set up a paradox when it comes to failure. We fear ridicule and humiliation if we fail, yet failure is the only way to true success. As a result, most of us (including myself), only go so close to the ledge. We don’t take enough chances, and if we don’t let ourselves be vulnerable, we never really grow. We never get to that next level. Kids need to know that it’s okay to fail. It’s the responsibility of parents, teachers and other adults to change the fear of failure mindset for children.
6. Let Them Be Bored
When you pay attention to boredom, it gets unbelievably interesting.jon kabat zinn
It’s okay to be bored. Parents sometimes feel the need to always be on the go with their kids. In a world where everything is at our fingertips, parents get caught up in keeping their kids as busy as possible. In a separate post, I wrote about yo-yo parenting, the phenomenon where parents are running from one end of town and back over and over again trying to get their kids to every scheduled event.
There’s a fear that if kids get bored, that will quickly escalate to acting out or a tantrum. Instead, it’s amazing the things kids will come up with when they are bored. They will bring Matchbox cars to life, they will turn dolls and stuffed animals into a family, or they will pretend they are puppies and crawl around the house. (Believe me, I know. My kids have done each one of these.) Boredom breeds creativity. So let them stare out the window or make up a game during a car ride instead of playing on their iPad. Encourage them to invent a new game in the backyard instead of always buying them something new or taking them somewhere.
7. Be Creative Role Models
Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.james baldwin
Let your children learn from you. Try to break down your own barriers of creativity that have been put up over the years. If you never show your creativity, it makes it very difficult to foster creativity in your children. Show your kids that being creative is fun and that they should never hold back from letting their creative side out.
Continue to Foster Creativity
There are so many ways to foster creativity in the younger generation, but the real key is to let them be themselves. With the rising importance of creativity in the workforce, it is more important than ever to encourage creativity. We are all creative, sometimes it just seems like society has smothered a good amount of our creativity and imagination.
So how about you? What are some other ways we can foster creativity in children?