Every parent believes their child is special and gifted from the moment they hold their little bundle of joy in their arms marveling at the miracle they created. But as they grow, it’s easy to lose sight of that amazement as everyday tasks take over: eating and sleeping, school, after-school activities, homework.
But in order to give our kids every opportunity, we have to recognize that they’re not just small adults that need to be looked after. They’re inherently more creative than us grownups, and that creativity should be nurtured to help them reach their full potential. Creativity is an essential life skill these days. Not only will it help them to be more successful in school and their professional lives, but it will help them be more adaptable to an economy and culture that are constantly changing.
Many parents shrug off the importance of arts and crafts or a musical instrument in their children's lives and consider such things frivolous. However, a study done by Michigan State University found that early participation in such activities fosters innovation in children, which helps them become successful in business and entrepreneurship enterprises later in life.
In a report done by Psychology Today on the importance of nurturing creativity in children, Rex LaMore, the director of Michigan State University's Centre for Community and Economic Development, states, “The most interesting finding was the importance of sustained participation in those activities. 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.”
Creativity in Early Childhood Rewires the Brain
Experts believe that creative activities in childhood, prior to the age of 14, rewire a child's brain in important ways, giving them a greater ability to think outside the box. Because of that, they’re better at coping with and solving the complex problems we deal with as adults.
History tells us that many of the world's most important minds, such as Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein, had early exposure to creative outlets. Steve Jobs would spend his childhood evenings working beside his father disassembling and re-assembling televisions and other home electronics. Later, he dropped out of college for 18 months to focus on calligraphy before going on to create Apple.
The love of musical arts also appears to be a key component of creativity that helps build a child's mind for future success. Albert Einstein was an avid violinist throughout his childhood. Futurity reports that 93 percent of STEM graduates had musical training during the formative years of their childhood. Only 34 percent of average adults have benefited from early musical training.
Futurity also goes on to report that children who have been exposed to metalwork and electronics, building and architecture, and even photography were all more likely than their peers without exposure to those things to hold a patent or form a business.
So how can you ensure that your child becomes and remains interested in these creative pursuits?
Tips to Nurture Creativity in Your Kids
There’s no magic formula for creative kids. Kids are naturally creative—meaning a lot of our job is simply to recognize opportunities to encourage that creativity and then get out of the way!
Simple Toys: Play is how children learn about the world, and most importantly, learn to ask questions. Many experts believe that a lot of toys on the market today guide children to pre-determined conclusions rather than allowing them to explore possibilities. Anyone who has watched a toddler come up with a complex game with a detailed backstory based on a stick they found in the yard knows that kids don’t need to be told how to play. Simple toys like blocks, balls, clay, and crayons allow achild to be an “explorer,” whereas complicated electronic toys too often tell children exactly what the next step is and what button to press to achieve some pre-determined result. So don’t be tempted to spend hundreds of dollars on the latest fancy touchscreen learning system when your child would likely have just as much fun—and get much more creative benefit—from the box it comes in.
Arts and Crafts: Good, old-fashioned arts and crafts supplies like finger paint, crayons, pipe cleaners, and clay should be readily available for your child so they can create something whenever the inspiration strikes. Structured activities can be fun, but make sure they have their own time for independent creative pursuits as well. When they draw or make something, ask them open-ended questions like, “What made you want to make this?” or “Can you tell me about your picture?”
Music and Dance: The prospect of their child having regular access to noisy objects like tambourines and recorders may make some parents shudder, but these can be the foundation for further (sweeter-sounding) musical exploration later in life. Also, expose your child to as many different kinds of music as possible. Take advantage of free or low-priced music and dance concerts in your local community. You never know what genre or instrument will inspire them.
Interaction: One of the best things you can do for your child is sit down on the floor with them and play and build together. Allow them to guide the activities—don’t structure things too much or tell them that’s “not how things work” or how exactly their block castle should look. By simply listening to their ideas and asking questions to help them come to their own conclusions, you’re showing them that their creativity is important and encouraging them to keep at it. You’re also helping them build language and cooperation skills.
Questions and Answers: Children are sponges. They soak up everything around them with wonder and imagination. They ask so many questions in a day that many parents get tired of the “whys” and “hows” and “whens,” losing patience and giving short non-answers. But questioning is one of the most important components of creativity, which means that as difficult as it is sometimes, you should try to rejoice in the non-stop interrogation. It means that your child is thirsting for answers. You can also ask more questions to inspire further inquiry. Ask things like, “Why do you think the rainbow is made of so many colors?” or “What does that __ make you think of?” There’s nothing wrong with also providing an answer for the things they ask, but try to inspire their own questions and imagination first.
Nurturing creativity in your children is largely a matter of letting their own natural curiosity take charge. Encouraging questions, focusing on play, and exposing them to the arts are simple ways to ensure that their inherent creativity grows, and that they carry it with them into adolescence and adulthood.
Phil McKinney is the host of the nationally syndicated radio show and podcast, Killer Innovations. You can find the show on iTunes and Google Play for Android. He is the author of Beyond The Obvious - a book that shares how he used innovation and creativity to achieve personal and professional success.