Children are naturally wonderfully creative, moving with ease between imaginative play, drawing, inventing songs or making music. As a mother of a 5 year old child and an art tutor for over 20 years, here are my thoughts on how to encourage this naturally occurring creativity in the children in your life.
Make creativity part of your life
If you participate in creative activities, dedicating your time and space in your house towards your own artistic interests, children will follow your lead. Since she was a baby, my daughter has seen me working on my printmaking and other artistic pursuits. In this photo, you can see her joining in with dampening and flattening flamingo prints I'd inked and pulled that day. Children will gravitate towards experimenting with the materials you work with yourself. If you value spending your time developing your creative skills, so will they.
Provide a child with the opportunity and materials with which to be creative- but then back off! Children are brimming with ideas, which they will happily unleash if given the space to do so. Look at this fantastic Easter egg created by a six year old boy. My friend and I gave the children participating a set of paint sticks, a sheet of A3 paper, and the initial idea of drawing and decorating an egg - but they drove the creative process forward. They all produced something far bolder and more colourful than we ever could have done.
When I teach any workshop to a mixed group of adults and children, the children will happily generate a whole gamut of ideas from nowhere, but for adults, I always have to carefully prepare a range of designs which they can choose to copy. Below you can see a collection of 'sheepies' created by an 8 years old during one evening - while the adults barely got started! I think it is really important to stand back and allow children to follow and develop their own ideas while they have the confidence to do so.
One of my formative experiences as a child was the unwelcome input from my art teacher in one of my projects. Long before I had finished my piece, without asking, she decided to trim the paper. Unsurprisingly, I ran out of room to finish what I had planned to do. My art teacher even apologized - she could see she had prematurely trimmed it and it was too late. For this reason, no matter if I'm teaching children or adults, I never interfere with their artwork, never making a mark or touching it in any way, For me,this is a cardinal rule. Back off and allow the child to determine what they want to do.
Don't underestimate a child's abilities
In my experience, children can be surprisingly capable, and can master complex skills and actions if you give them the opportunity to do so. My daughter has been allowed to use scissors from a very young age, and she is now very dexterous with them. Nursery staff regularly comment on her cutting skills. My friend's child, age 5 at the time, showed an interest in my printing press - and with careful supervision to ensure his safety, he printed up letterpress font no problem. If you teach children to use tools respectfully and safely, they can develop their creative abilities using tools from a very young age, which in turn, feeds their confidence.
Get them outside
Children's creativity blossoms in the outdoors. In a natural environment, they can adapt the things they find to fit any purpose they want. They can decipher their environment in any way they please - here, you can see my daughter using two giant dock leaves as fairy wings, for example. Nothing has a label, and everything is open to their interpretation. Encouraging children to play outside also provides them with skills which comprise a wider concept of creativity - exploration, discovery, problem-solving and understanding. Physical play allows children to use their bodies and their minds in the way which has propelled human evolution. One of the core purposes behind our creative thinking is to interact with and use our environment to enhance our quality of life. Encouraging children to play outdoors taps into the inventiveness which is driven by our survival Instincts.
What about you? How do you encourage creativity in the children in your life? Which approaches work best?