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How do you motivate your child to be creative?

When your children are still young, what are some things you can do to encourage them to enjoy childhood and utilize their creativity instead of turning to a device to provide all their entertainment?  

First, naturally limit use of electronic devices to fill times of boredom.

A quick Google search of “the value of boredom” revealed: 

Why is it that we have lost the love of boredom? Where do good ideas come from? Being bored. Making sure that we don’t hand our child a device or allow them to flip on the television or computer every time they claim “I’m bored,” is a huge step toward helping them develop skills that allow them to seek alternatives to electronics.  

Setting up stations or areas where your child can go when they are bored, can encourage creative play

A Dress-Up Station

Fill a bin with open-ended dress-up ideas.  Old clothes from your closet, Grandma’s or Goodwill is a great start. Look for Halloween costumes on sale in the winter. Scarves, costume jewelry, and even large fabric remnants can inspire your little one to get into character and go on adventures.  Accessories such as shoes and sunglasses also add a fun touch. Don’t forget a mirror so they can see how great they look. Dress-up can result in hours of pretending, dance events, and creative character play.  

A Building Station 

A tub with building supplies provides an opportunity for trial and error and figuring out the best way to create a project. Of course, Legos are great but so are other building materials. A visit to a construction site dumpster (with permission) or the local home improvement store can yield endless pieces for modular play. Various size pieces of PVC pipe and fittings, boards (remove any nails or splinters), and other building materials make for fort building paradise. Add a few sheets from a yard sale and your children may want to spend the night in their new creation.  

An Arts & Crafts Station

Another storage tub could be dedicated to arts and crafts supplies. Stock up when school supplies are plentiful and add paints and paint brushes, fabric scraps and embroidery thread, glue and some construction paper, old magazines, and a couple of T-shirt’ for smocks.  Your artistic child will be content for hours creating a masterpiece for your fridge.

As with any activity for young children, you will need to set parameters on where they can spread out their creative supplies and how they will need to clean them up and return them to the storage tub. Eventually they will be able to independently choose activities, rather than always going to a device for entertainment.


By offering this unstructured time, think of the opportunities you are providing for your child.  They are practicing skills that use creativity, imagination, and innovation. So next time your youngster starts to whine, instead of handing over the iPad, reach for an activity tub to inspire them

“The brain can be developed just as a set of muscles.” ~Thomas Edison

I want to ask you to suspend your belief that “creativity is inherited”. In fact, creativity is inherent in every human being. As parents, YOU can nurture and strengthen your children’s creative abilities.

Your children have enormous mental capacity stored within the right hemisphere of their minds that can become weaker as they spend less time engaged in creative activity. Imaginative play is replaced with TV and video games. Coloring and drawing are replaced with writing and mathematics. The pressure to perform on standardized tests replaces “circle time.” School becomes more about memorizing facts and figures and less about independent thinking.

Without an awareness of the importance of developing the creative, right brain skills, your young children can depart from their innate creative selves into logical, linear thinking, left-brain-dominant “mature” individuals.

Whereas creatively empowered individuals say, “We can make this work!” others may say, “It has never been done before.” It is exactly this disparity that fueled a recent cover story (July 2010) in Newsweek Magazine entitled “The Creativity Crisis”. It reported decisively that our children’s creativity scores (based on a creativity test similar in intention to the IQ test) have been steadily DROPPING since 1990. With all of the challenges facing our world today and our children being the future source of potential solutions to these problems, it is now more important than ever to pay special attention to balancing our children’s education to include creative activity.

What can you do to ensure your kids grow into “creatively fit” adults? Here are three simple steps. Learn more at

  1. Provide unstructured playtime. Resist the temptation to have every day booked full of activity. Kids need the “blank canvas” time in their day where it is entirely up to them to CREATE their acitivity.
  2. Shop for art supplies at the grocery store. You don’t need fancy art supplies or a home studio to use creative art activity to fuel your child’s creative mind. Simply keep blank paper in the kitchen (because, let’s face it, that is where they live), crayons, fresh markers, a glue stick, etc.
  3. Get outside! Nothing serves as a greater source of inspiration than the great outdoors. The kids may resist at first, but take them to the park, the nature reserve, or even send them to the driveway with some sidewalk chalk. It is the simple activities that will have the most impact.

To learn all “33 Things” you can do to raise creative kids, buy Whitney Ferre’s book 33 Things to Know About Raising Creative Kids.

In this age of standardized testing and STEM programs, it’s easy to imagine that the only subjects that matter are reading and math. Schools in recent years have dismantled music and art classes, relegating these at most to once-a-week “specials” intended mostly to provide reading and math teachers with some planning time. Many parents are quicker to sign their kids up for afterschool tutoring than for guitar lessons or a ceramics class. They want to get, naturally, the biggest bang for their buck.

A new study, however, indicates that the arts promote the same abilities prized by schools these days. Whether your child is truly interested in art and music or simply wants to do well in science, taking classes in the arts is an important part of kids’ education.

The study, conducted by researchers at Michigan State University and published in Economic Development Quarterly, investigated the childhoods and later careers of students who graduated from the MSU Honors College with majors in science, technology, engineering or math between 1990 and 1995. Those graduates who today own businesses or hold patents had much more arts training as children than other graduates.

In addition, the researchers found that more arts leads to more success in STEM fields. According to Rex LaMore of MSU, “If you started as a young child and continued in your adult years, you’re more likely to be an inventor as measured by the number of patents generated, businesses formed or articles published. And that was something we were surprised to discover.”

In addition to sheer volume of arts exposure the kind of art kids dabbled in mattered too. Those who had taken courses in metal work or electronics were 42% more likely than other kids to grow up to hold a patent, as were 30% of kids who has tried out photography. A whopping 87.5 percent of those who explored architecture as children were likely to form a company. The secret, apparently, is early training in creative thinking that supports later innovation.

“The skills you learn from taking things apart and putting them back together translate into how you look at a product and how it can be improved,” according to Eileen Roraback, also from MSU. “In our study, a biologist working in the cancer field, who created a business, said her writing skills helped her to write business plans and win competitions.”

For parents, the next steps are clear:

  1. Encourage your children (boys as well as girls) to take classes in art, music, or other creative fields.
  2. Support at-home dabbling in creative problem solving, by setting aside space and equipment for a workshop. Just a corner of the garage or basement might do and tools scrounged from yard sales and thrift stores.
  3. Buy toys that encourage building and tinkering, such as Lego or blocks, and don’t inhibit how your kids play with these. It’s not so important that they follow the directions to duplicate the package front. It’s more important that they find innovative uses for the materials.
  4. Rally around the arts at your child’s school. Art and music are not frills or just in-school babysitting while “real” teachers plan. The arts encourage exactly the sort of thinking that develops into life success.

Remember Sid, the sketchy kid next door in Toy Story? That’s the boy who mixed and matched toy parts to create scary-looking figures he then launched with model rockets. Research suggests that that child was headed, not for juvenile detention, but for success as an inventor. His parents had the right idea.

Supporting the arts in your child is a good idea too.


© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

After a brief snowstorm this past winter, a neighboring front yard was decorated with two naked snowmen created by the adolescent sons of the homeowner. These were most definitely male snowmen and they were – how shall I say? – excited to be out in the snow in the front yard.  I wondered what sort of conversation my neighbor had had with her boys about their art…

And the snowmen made me remember a sculpture one of my sons made in middle school art class long ago, a sculpture of a gunshot victim screaming in horror. I remembered not quite knowing how to interpret this piece of art (which I still have, by the way).

Why is it that teen creative expression often seems intent on disturbing or embarrassing us adults?  Do teens’ violent, sexual, or depressive themes mean that our kids are violent, sexually unstable or depressed? Is such art a warning sign? Should it be censored?

The impulse to censor art – drawing, painting, music, writing, and so on – is ever-present even for adult expression.  Some might say that it’s the purpose of art to push the boundaries of taste and decency. “Pretty” art and “nice” art do not get critical respect since they don’t say anything new and they don’t challenge comfortable beliefs. Art is supposed to shake us up.

Which explains why teen art bothers us so much. It is very often challenging. It quite frequently says things we wish it wouldn’t say and that we’d really not like to know. We feel threatened by teen art because it’s intended to feel threatening. It reflects the feelings of threat experienced by the teens themselves.

So does this mean that teens who create art that offends adults are threatened and in danger? Is this art a symptom of trouble to come?

For the vast majority of teens, the answer is “no.” Teen art expresses the unsettled feelings kids have about just about everything. They struggle with sexual expression, they are worried about violence, and they are troubled by feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. These are normal feelings for teens. The teen years are not easy.

Naturally the art teens make and the art they consume – the movies, music, and video games they like – reflect the emotional ups and downs of people trying to make the transition from dependent child to independent adult. It’s a jungle out there and teens are frightened. Their art tells us so.

Of course, obsessive thoughts of violence and sadness also can signal trouble.  For a small fraction of teens, disturbing artistic content is a symptom of deeper issues that need professional attention.  If unsettling art is accompanied by symptoms of depression or antisocial tendencies – if your gut tells you something is wrong – then certainly get help. But unsettling art alone is not a cause for concern.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you must put up with obscene snowmen. There’s a time and place for everything and sometimes teens need reminding of this rule. English class might not be the best venue for even a well-crafted story about serial murder. And “pretty” and “nice” are the only sors of art that is wanted in the front yard.

© 2012, Patricia Nan Anderson.  All rights reserved.