Real creativity starts with passion, with a keen interest in learning something, and then taking it farther. So the starting place for parents who want to encourage creativity in a child is to expose her to as many different kinds of experience as possible—scientific, musical, visual, physical, etc., —so she has enough knowledge to figure out what really interests her.
From there, it’s about giving her what she needs to take her interests as far as she can. If it’s painting, see if she’d like art classes, and try to make that happen. Get an easel if that’s helpful, and enough paints or crayons or pencils, and paper so she can explore and develop her skills. It doesn’t have to be expensive. You and your child can exercise your creativity in solving the problem of getting the right kinds of supplies. What you need to do is provide as much support and encouragement as you can.
Give her the opportunities, challenges, and support she needs to work hard at what interests her, and discover if she wants to take it farther. Your belief in her ability to go forward is what’s important in the early stages. Do what you can to help her learn as much as she can possibly learn about her area of interest. The more a person knows, the more they have with which to be creative.
As your child gets farther along in her mastery, she’ll discover conflicts and ambiguities, the way that ‘truths’ appear to contradict other ‘truths’. It’s good to start by understanding the rules in the domain—e.g., musical scales, or grammatical standards—but then it’s good to break those rules. This is confusing and difficult until she’s learned to tolerate ambiguity, and can let it be okay that apparently opposing ideas are both valid.
Although knowledge is essential to creativity, it is also a double-edged sword—too much knowledge can limit creativity. So help your child keep growing, keep moving forward in her learning, thinking, exploring, and developing. That means generating lots of ideas, reframing problems as they’re encountered, and it also means learning to critically analyze her ideas. Nobody has good ideas all the time. Some are worth pursuing. Some aren’t. Help her learn to think about her ideas, and ask herself and others if they’re worth developing before she proceeds.
Once she’s far enough along to have a reasonable level of proficiency, help her learn to share her creative work with others. Communicating her work with others—whether it’s dance, writing, or math problem-solving—allows her to take it to the next stage, and opens up further possibilities for growth and learning. When others start reacting to what she produces—her ideas, her songs, her inventions—she’ll learn more about where it might need more work, and where she wants to invest more effort.
Every innovator encounters opposition, so as she moves farther along in her creativity, your child also needs to learn how to believe in her ideas, take sensible risks, surmount obstacles, and stay strong in the face of opposition.
The very best thing you can do to encourage your child’s creativity is to apply all these recommendations to yourself. Find your passion, and pursue it as far as you can. Learn more about it, develop skills and expertise, decide what rules you want to break, and share your ideas and products with others. Challenge yourself to keep growing. Find ways to believe in yourself, to surmount the inevitable obstacles, to look for ways to sell your ideas. By engaging in creative activity yourself, you’ll be a great role model for your child. She’ll see how good it feels to engage in creativity.
If you’re a parent or a teacher, you’ve got chances every day to encourage the creativity of the children in your life. There’s no more exciting or important work you can do!
For more on these ideas, go to www.raisingsmarterkids.net
Sources: book in progress with Joanne Foster on raising smarter kids; Dan Keating’s work on defining creativity, specifically his article entitled ‘The Four Faces of Creativity’; Bob Sternberg’s work on deciding for creativity, especially his article called ‘Identifying and Developing Creative Giftedness.’