Giving Kids a Creative Edge

From the Editors of Ideas That Spark

Children are naturally creative: Their napkins become hats, their drinks are magic potions, and ketchup turns into paint. But aside from being endlessly entertaining, creativity is also critical to their developing brains. Creative and artistic experiences help kids express their feelings and come up with new ideas and ways to solve problems. Studies show that involvement in the arts boosts test scores and promotes academic achievement across the board.

These discoveries may explain why children’s art studios are popping up across the country, giving kids a chance to let their imaginations run wild with paint, clay,  and in the case of Make-a-Messterpiece in Glenview, Ill., even bubbles. In addition to private studios (such as KidsArt in California and Washington) and foundations (such as Creative Art Space for Kids in New York), many YMCA branches and local art museums offer art programs.

You can also get your child’s creative juices flowing at home with some very basic art supplies and the right attitude. Bring out the creative genius in your children with these simple tips.

Start With a Blank Slate
Leave projects open-ended so kids are free to imagine the endless possibilities. For example, if you’re painting pumpkins, don’t paint one first as an example, because your kids are likely to try to copy it, quashing their creativity. Instead, simply give children paint and paintbrushes and let them begin. Keep in mind that there are no wrong ways to paint a pumpkin.

Forget Perfection
Focus on the creative process rather than the finished product. For example, your child may find tremendous fun and fulfillment in shaping, squishing, pounding and poking at clay for an hour -- even if the end result is a shapeless lump.

Don’t Mind the Mess
Art is not a neat business, and nothing stifles creativity faster than a wet mop or a dustpan underfoot. Let your child get dirty -- that’s how she’ll learn to take risks. (Plus, it’s fun!) You can wipe up the glitter later.

Mix It up
Spice up your at-home art projects by using different materials instead of the usual paint, felt, pipe cleaners and beads. Challenge your children to find art supplies in their environment: a sponge, chopsticks, gum wrappers, bottle caps and egg cartons, for example. Head outside and collect leaves, sticks, acorns and small pebbles. Supply children with glue and paper and give no other direction. Be ready for anything.

Expose Them to Diversity
Take trips to museums and zoos; see plays and concerts; attend an African drumming circle, a Mexican fiesta, a Chinese New Year celebration. Every experience your children have with people or situations outside their normal routine widens their range of creative expression.

Make Music
Encourage experimentation with musical instruments without showing how it’s done. Let her play piano with her toes or beat the drum with maracas if she wants. You can make your own instruments too. Dried beans in a toilet paper tube make a great shaker; waxed paper secured over a coffee can is a drum; rubber bands stretched over a shoebox make a guitar. Grab an instrument and play along for a fun family hootenanny.

Allow for Unconventional Ideas
Thinking outside the box is what creativity is all about. When kids come up with a new way of doing things -- making a sculpture out of plastic hangers, for instance -- go with it (as long as it’s safe, of course). Your support will encourage more creative thinking and problem solving down the road.

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