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Thoughts, musings, questions and inspiration from the desk of our head rebel. We write about creativity, growing a small business, how-to tutorials and popular trends in handmaking.

5 Ways to Get out of the Way & Let Your Kids Be Creative

Jill Maldonado

photo credit: Corinne Shaw

photo credit: Corinne Shaw

You've probably heard many conversations about how school/video games/television [insert the scary-thing-of-the-moment here] are destroying the creativity of a generation. I don't mean to diminish any of those concerns, but the fact of the matter is, as parents, we cannot single-handedly battle whatever outside influences we feel are endangering our kids' capacity to be creative. There is a whole lot we can do inside our own homes and within our relationships with our kids to protect the creativity they were born with. Ironically, what that looks like is stepping back and DOING LESS.

Here are five simple ways to get out of the way and let your kids' creativity flourish.

1) Think Process Over Product

Process art is all about the experience kids have while they’re creating. The end product isn’t the focus. Emphasizing process encourages kids to try different materials and experiment with different ideas because they are released from the expectation that the resulting product will look a certain way. Avoid projects that come with samples, photos of finished pieces or (ack!) instructions. Craft kits are fun, but they can stifle creativity by stimulating a kid's desire to "do it right".

2) Answer a Question with a Question

Kids who are still building their creative muscles might seek direction from you if a project is open ended. Your kids might ask questions like,  "Does this look good?" or "Should I use blue or red?". Turn those questions right back around with responses like, "How do you feel about it?" "Both red and blue are awesome colors. Can you imagine what each one might look if you used it?" The goal here is to help them develop creative decision making skills and see that there is more than way to do things. By refusing to offer too much guidance, you're actually helping them develop their own instincts (which will serve them well in other aspects of their life).

3) Have Supplies at the Ready

Let's get real, not everyone has the resources for a Pinterest worthy project room. Work with what you've got to make it quick and easy for kids to get creative when inspiration strikes. This could look like a corner desk with shelves, a rolling cart with supplies, a plastic tote that fits neatly in your closet and a vinyl table cloth at the ready to spread out wherever there's space. The idea is that they should be able to access this stuff and start a project without too much help from you. A quick word about supplies... not all art supplies have to come from the strip mall craft store. Your kid is probably already an expert at collecting odd and interesting things as they move through their days. My younger kid was a hoarder of rocks, my older one had a collection of (of ALL things) orange peels. The weird things they gravitate to speak to their imagination for some reason. Embrace that. (By the way, this is an excellent way to demonstrate the beauty of upcycling - just sayin'.)

4) Practice "Benign Neglect"

Benign Neglect: noun  - a noninterference that is intended to benefit someone or something more than continual attention would.
As much as possible IGNORE your kid while they're being creative. Be nearby, but occupied. Fold some laundry, read a book or do some knitting. If you're too much in their awareness as they create, it's hard for them to lose themselves in what they're doing. They more they can get lost inside their own heads, the deeper the relationship they're building with their inner voice. As a mom to teenagers, I cannot emphasize enough the strength they will draw from being able to listen to themselves!

5) Let Them See You Being Creative

Wanting our kids to be creative means we need to model that behavior. You don't need to be an accomplished artist - even better if you're not! Demonstrate the courage to try new things and if you "mess up", do it with grace and humor. Enough said. 

Remember, kids are innately creative. We just need to create the conditions that allow them to develop creative confidence.  

Now get out there and get out of the way! ;)

P.S. What do you do to exercise your own creativity? I'd love to hear about it!