American ingenuity and creativity have been admired and coveted around the world for decades. But according to a researcher who has studied creativity for the last decade at the College of William and Mary, creativity in U.S. children is declining. The biggest decrease in creativity is seen in grades K-3.
So what’s going on? Here are a few possible reasons:
- Too much organized time and not enough free time
- Too much technology and screen time
- A relentless focus on performance in schools
So what is creativity?
- Creativity generates or recognizes ideas, alternatives or possibilities useful in problem solving, communicating and entertaining.
- Creativity moves us beyond traditional ideas, rules, patterns and relationships to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods and interpretations.
- The backbone of creativity is divergent thinking — thinking in new and different ways — which is key to problem solving.
How parents can support their child’s creativity
1. Give them downtime
Children need to pursue their interests free from screens, interruptions, advice or questioning from adults. This could be daydreaming outside in a treehouse, building with blocks, reading, writing, drawing, experimenting with sand and water, or building something out of toilet paper rolls and tape.
2. Limit technology
Technology can be a great thing and kids can learn a lot from it. But too much technology or inappropriate technology is not good. Many things can’t be learned from a one-dimensional screen, like the feel of the curve on a ball, the sound and mass of a stack of wooden blocks when they come crashing down, the warmth and security of sitting in a lap and being read to.
3. Set up a special place for imaginative play
Give kids access to interesting materials to manipulate, doodle, build and pretend. Ideas include dress-up clothes, a shelf with paper, writing materials, old greeting cards, junk mail and stamps. Add interesting things like stones, buttons or pine cones to the block area.
4. Provide sensory activities
A large plastic box with dry oatmeal, birdseed, rice or any other safe material to pour, scoop and dump will not only entertain your child, it will teach important concepts as well. Learn how to create your own sensory box.
5. Take your child on field trips
This doesn’t have to be expensive. A walk in the woods or a trip to the park, accompanying mom or dad to the bank or hardware store, or even a “home” field trip to the basement to look at the furnace and explain how it works are good ideas.
6. Don’t over-reward creativity
Many adults are constantly over-praising kids with words like “awesome,” “fabulous” or “great job” even for routine things. Kids have a hard time learning to value and judge their own ideas when they get this constant meaningless praise.
7. Avoid hovering, judging and controlling kids’ activities
Kids’ creativity can be derailed if they aren’t free to make mistakes, and when they feel that they’re constantly being watched and judged. Adults need to value the process — how a child is progressing and learning — rather than the product. Some of the best learning comes from mistakes.
8. Allow kids to make a mess and get dirty
See if you can find spaces in your house or outside where it is OK to make a fort out of the couch cushions, or play with dirt and water.
9. Choose a child care or preschool that values curiosity
Young children learn best through hands-on activities. Too much seat work and paper and pencil type activities can affect creativity.
10. Let them be bored some of the time!
Instead of constantly coming up with ideas and activities to keep children entertained, ignore their complaining and say, “I know how smart you are, and I know you can think of an idea for something to do.”
We will always need people who can think in new and innovative ways as we strive to solve the world’s problems. Creativity is worth nurturing.