Raising Creative Kids: 10 ways to encourage your kids to be creative

Today is the day we’re starting the Raising Creative Kids series! This isn’t going to be a “post every day for a week and then never again” kind of series, but rather something that’s on-going here on my blog. So you’ll find a Raising Creative Kids post popping up occasionally [perhaps once a month, perhaps more frequently].

raising creative kids // a series at if only they would nap

When I was young, I would spend hours writing stories and dreaming of publishing books. As I got older, I was super passionate about painting. These days my creative energies are directed toward sewing, cooking, and creating a cozy home. But I have to be creating, somehow.. it’s definitely part of my DNA.

My boys area lot like me in this way. They spend hours drawing, making, and writing. It took some comments from other mamas to realize that this isn’t always the norm. So I wanted to share how we do things in our house to encourage creativity and make it a priority in our home. Hopefully you’ll walk away with some ideas and a fresh perspective.

10 ways to encourage your kids to be creative

1. Read

Honestly, the former elementary teacher and homeschooling mama in me believes that this is one of the most important things you can do to encourage your kids to be creative. Reading sparks their imagination and gives them new ideas. It stimulates their brain and gives them the desire to learn more things. If your kids aren’t of reading age, read to them and keep picture books or board books all over the house. Encourage reading outside, in bed, or wherever.

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2. Unstructured play

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
-Mr. Fred Rogers

Next to reading, this is a huge priority for me and one of the biggest reasons we homeschool. Now don’t worry if you’re not a homeschooling family, you can still have unstructured play time in your child’s day! Give your child open-ended toys and the time to create something with them – an imaginary world, a tower, a hospital.. toys that can be used in multiple ways are crucial to helping your child to nurture their creative side.

3. Have art and writing supplies readily accessible

My kids have free access to most of our art supplies. Since we have a baby and a toddler in the house, the scissors and paint are kept out of their reach, but the older boys can get to them. I never let the boys think they are wasting art supplies. I don’t ever want them to think that what they are creating isn’t important. So do we go through a lot of markers, tape, glue, and paper? Oh my, yes. But I’m okay with that. We don’t buy a lot of expensive art supplies. We hit up dollar stores or the Target dollar spot or even thrift stores. Let your kids use the backs of old papers that you don’t need anymore for drawing. Since most of the things they make aren’t things we’ll keep forever, I don’t want to freak out and see dollar signs flashing in my head every time they bust out the watercolors. There are a few supplies that are reserved for special occasions or parent-supervised activities, but because they have the freedom to create whenever they want to, they are more likely to do it.

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4. Model creativity

This one might not come as easily to you, if you don’t consider yourself a creative person, and that’s okay. Teaching your kids to be passionate about something is important – whether it’s fixing cars, running, cooking, sewing [ahem] or whatever it is that you enjoy. Let them see the creativity in that, because it’s there. Let them see you reading or playing an instrument or doodling on a page; it will make a difference.

5. Get into nature

Spending time outside can have an incredible impact on creativity – yours and your child’s. Most of my favorite memories as a kid revolve around sitting in the woods around my parents’ house. Whether it’s a state park, a beach, or your backyard, playing outside gives your kiddos a different perspective, not to mention all the health benefits of fresh air and exercise. I know that when my body feels good, I feel more creative!

6. Create instead of craft

My boys don’t do a lot of parent-directed craft projects. Every now and then, but mostly I give them free reign to create. Let me tell you, they come up with some weeeeird things sometimes. ;) And most of it is far from Pinterest-worthy. But it’s theirs and they’re proud of it, and sometimes they blow me away with their creativity. I don’t at all mean to say that parent-directed crafts are bad – they are so much fun to do, and can produce some super cute projects! Just don’t be afraid to let your kids just make weird, random creations.

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7. Dress up and pretend play

“When we treat children’s play as seriously as it deserves, we are helping them feel the joy that’s to be found in the creative spirit. It’s the things we play with and the people who help us play that make a great difference in our lives.”
-Mr. Fred Rogers

[let me just pause for a minute and say how much I love Mr. Rogers. okay, had to get that off my chest]

If you’ve watched kids playing dress up or with a play kitchen or caring for a baby doll, you have seen how this challenges them to think outside of their world. Giving a child a silly mustache is more than watching them look completely adorable [which of course is absolutely true], but it’s about watching them pretend to become someone else for a few minutes, stretching their mind a little, and creating a whole new world to be a part of.

8. Limit electronics

We are not a no-screen family, but we are definitely a limited-screen family. We have computers and tablets and a TV, but our boys have very limited time with any of these. I do not believe that any of these things are bad – in fact, I think they can be really great at times. [And how many mamas are thankful to Sesame Street for giving them the chance to take a shower? Can I get an Amen??] But when your kids are looking at a screen, they are usually not using a creative part of their brain. So if encouraging creativity is a priority, consider if you need to scale back the screens.

9. Embrace the mess

Allowing your kids the freedom to create what they want means relinquishing a clean space. If your kids are worried that you’re going to get upset that they spilled glue all over the floor for the fifth time that day, they aren’t going to have as much fun. Set aside a dedicated art space or fill a kitchen cabinet with all your art supplies so they can work at the kitchen table like we do. When we aren’t eating, our kitchen table is nearly always covered in art supplies. Pick an area that is easily cleaned or that is okay getting a stain or two… or a hundred. ;) Keep placemats, tablecloths, and painting shirts nearby to minimize the cleanup, and make sure your kids are able to put most things away themselves [don’t keep everything on a high shelf, or you’ll have to do all the work!]

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10. It’s not a competition, and it’s okay to make mistakes!

Part of being creative is learning and growing. That means making mistakes and not comparing my art with yours, one child’s artistic or musical talent with another’s. I know I can struggle with this for myself, so I don’t want to pass this along to my kids. In our house, we tell our boys that “everyone is creative in their own way.” You don’t draw “better” than him, you just do it differently or are older and have had more practice. When you take the competition out of creativity, kids are more likely to try something new without fear of comparison. In the same vein, don’t get sucked into the “Do it for me, Mommy!” game. While it’s a wonderful experience to create alongside your child and help them when they’re stuck, encourage independence when you can. Let them  make a picture of a tree that looks absolutely nothing like a tree. Someday it will probably look like a tree. :)

What are some things you do in your home to encourage creativity in your home?

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10 comments

  1. Embrace the mess is the hardest and yet most crucial part. We allow ourselves the freedom to make a our mess, why not our kids (provided they help with clean up too)

  2. What a great post Jess!You have given me some great ideas of things to do with Gigi. She doesn’t like books and I don’t know why! Maybe laying them around the house like you mention,
    might help or doing a craft about the book. I shared this post on FB BTW.

  3. It is so important to encourage kids to live their creativity. Once unleashed creativity follows your steps through life – wherever you go. One great point you make is to say that there is no competition when it’s about creativity, so true.

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