As parents, we are tempted to believe that our children’s thought development follows the same pattern as their physical development.

Fingers start out small and grow bigger. Crawling leads to walking. However, creativity peaks in early childhood largely because it is such an important learning tool. It is exciting to realize that as a the parent of a young child, you are participating in what might be the most creative period of your child’s life.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to generate your child’s creativity; you need to join in it. A parent’s role in fostering creativity is the same as fostering overall well-being: give your child a wide array of experiences. These experiences become the material that your child draws on while exploring his creative capacities.

Creativity refers to the ability to make fresh connections between information. Yet researchers say that ingenuity alone is not enough to be creative—a child also needs a rich resource of experiences to bring into play and combine in his mind. Creativity involves going forward with ideas and experiences; whereas, knowledge refers to storing ideas and information. A young child’s learning combines both creativity and knowledge.

Some children have a preference and high ability for artistic expression – young Van Goghs; however, all children have a capacity to think and learn through creativity. As an adult, your child will, regardless of occupation, need to generate new ideas and think expansively.

Here are a few easy-to-do activities to enjoy the creative side of your child and to help your child make fresh learning connections.

Ask open-end questions

When your two- or three-year-old asks you what something is or why something is, hold your answer. Often your child has already formed a theory. Instead ask, “What do you think it is?” or “Why do you think it is?” He may have the “right” answer, or he may have a less conventional theory based on combinations of his past experience. If he offers you a creative theory, ask some probing questions. After you have explored his answer, see if you can guide him from where his is to a more accurate answer, or just let it sit for another time.

Encourage Expansive Thought

When you find a open moment, such as driving in the car or waiting for an appointment, hold up an object and ask your child how many different ways he could use the object. For example, a piece of paper can…be written on…wrap a small box…light a fire…become a boat or plane. This activity encourages the application of creative thought to everyday objects and occurrences.
Read Fanciful Stories

Dr. Seuss is the classic example. Who else can take the simple idea of offering breakfast to someone and make it last for sixty plus pages? The concept of Green Eggs and Ham expanded into a long, funny story demonstrates for your child how to think big and make lots of associations and connections to one idea. Also checkout some of Edward Lear poems, such as, “The Jumblies,” and “The Scroobious Pip.” (Lear even invents his own words.)

Encourage and Join in Dramatic Play

Encourage dramatic play between children. Even twos enjoy putting on a hat and playing with dishes. Dramatic play allows your child to take information that he has internalized and try it out in social situations.

For parent/child dramatic play, ask your child to tell you a story that you (and the rest of the family) can act out together. Act the story out so that he can see his ideas come to life. Ask him if he would like to make any changes and perform the revised version. From time to time, write down one of his stories. (Remember that children often want to act out fears that might include seemingly strange ideas or even violence. They are not necessary violent children; more likely, they are trying to cope with past aggressive experiences [seen or experienced].)

Offer “Low-product” Art Activities

Art activities are the classic creativity medium and should not be ignored. Your child’s art activity needs to focus on the process of creating, not the product. In other words, what your child creates, or even if the project is completed, does not matter. Instead of focusing all of your praise on the product of your child’s creativity, encourage your child to use and combine materials in new and original ways. Try one of these low-product oriented art activities:

  • Give a two-year-old multiple colors of tissue paper to tear into small pieces and put on the sticky side of contact paper. Comment on the color combinations.
  • Give a three-year-old a big lump of soft playdough and offer him some beans, dried noodles, and string to mash into it.
  • For a four-year-old, put several notches on each side of a small cardboard square and encourage him to wrap colorful yarn in various directions to make a pattern.
  • Give a five-year-old a collection of pre-cut magazine pictures. Have him glue one picture near the bottom of a piece of stiff paper or cardboard. Then let him continue to select pictures to make a figure. Add some crayons or markers to make connecting parts.

All of these activities focus on the fun of creating, not of making something to put on the refrigerator, because what a child accomplishes while exploring and putting different things together is the true prize.

Our daughter at eleven years old has become interested in math. She loves the patterns and the getting the “right answer”. Recently, I reminded her of her imaginary friend, named Dimmer Daumer (strange name, I know), who lived in a refrigerator box playhouse in her bedroom. At the age of three, she talked about him nonchalantly and occasionally blamed him for things that we all knew she had done. When I reminded her about Dimmer Daumer, she was amazed that she had ever even had an imaginary friend; it seemed so foreign to how she thinks now. We laughed about it. Later I realized what a valuable thing it was to remind her of her creative side that has changed with age. As her interest in math continues, she will need that creativity to solve problems multiple ways and even conceptualize imaginary numbers.

As your child grows, store way artifacts and remembrances of those crazy, wide-open thoughts. Not only will those memories build a strong family identity; they will also help your child see him or herself as a creative person even when learning at school begins to focus more on knowledge-storing.

By Anne Oxenreider