Children are creative. We see this everyday in the way they draw, the way they experiment with language, the way they interact with objects, the way they imagine new worlds. We believe that creative confidence — believing in your ability to create change and having the courage to act on it — is something all of us are born with.
Unfortunately as we see too often, people lose this innate ability as they grow. Perhaps they get a “creativity scar” when somebody tells them they aren’t a good artist or they’re doing things the wrong way. This is where creativity is at it’s most vulnerable. They feel judged and become fearful of what other people think. How can we prevent our children’s creativity from being blocked? And how can we help strengthen their creative muscles? We, the adults — parents, educators, caretakers, all play a defining role in whether children see themselves as creative. And if we want to empower the next generation to change the world, helping them build their creative confidence is critical. Through my work as an art educator and in setting up my school, I have developed my own set of strategies to harness and enable the creative muscle, many of which carry implications outside of a workshop environment.
1. Start with what you have: A parent once shared with me that they felt that the holidays and birthdays, when the toy cabinet is overflowing with gifts, that that is when her children are the least creative. We have all experienced the paralysis of choice and I think that this affects children profoundly. Our task as caregivers, who are mindful of fostering creativity, is to eliminate the noise so that children may develop a deep and creative relationship with few, select things. As a colleague once reflected: ‘Limited resources help foster creativity’.
2. Be a witness to their creativity: It is important for us to watch and listen to the child’s explorations and inventions as this promotes a sense of security. It also gives the child greater confidence to take risks if they know we are nearby. I must add that being witness and supporter of creativity is an all-together different experience to showing your own creativity. Children need to be encouraged and supported to find their own ways of doing things, not given solutions. There is rarely one right answer or one way of doing things. Don’t have expectations about how you think a child should solve a problem or present a project. Try not to jump in with your ideas.
3. Allow for messy play: I am empathetic to the struggles and needs of a parent who may be averse to mess and to this I urge you to think of opportunities for these activities in structured times and designated spaces places. Ensure that one creative project is happening at a time, with plenty of time to clean up, will help you to keep your home in order. Messy play usually focuses on developing the opportunity for intense experience and can free the children up from the expectation of having to produce something to show for it. This leaves the child, and yourself, free to explore all possibilities and to enjoy the creative process. Find something that works for you and your home. Recurring play opportunities that you may wish to try include painting with ice cubes made of ink, Large sheets of paper down on your driveway and drive or walk over it, Tape paper underneath the table so they can paint on it, filling a bathtub with shaving cream and food colouring, making sculpture out of clothes that are to be thrown out.
4. Consider your choice of words: The foundations of creativity and risk taking begins with the sense of security that we can promote with the way that we speak about the creative task and opportunities at hand. Create a safe space where no one makes fun of new ideas. Talk about creativity and point out to children when other adults, including teachers, are quashing creativity and give them a license to ignore it. When speaking about the children’s creations, replace generic praise with specific observations and encouragement about the process. Rather than “That’s so beautiful,” try “The shape of the wing makes the bird seem strong,” or, “You worked so hard on that, you used up almost the whole purple crayon.”
5. Be a role model: I want to share with you one thing that all teachers learn about their craft which many have cited as one of the most profound understandings of their career: you don’t have to be a pro. Let’s, for a moment, look at teaching as a process of enabling, of giving young people opportunities, as a process of encouragement, inspiration and mentoring. Suddenly it’s easy to see that supporting creativity can really be done by anyone with understanding and love on their hands. Parents are often quick to tell me ‘I’m not creative’ and I think what they mean is that they are not very arty. They do not feel confident painting, writing a poem or playing a musical instrument. Creativity is not limited to the arts. I know that amongst the parent community there are incredibly creative chemist, physicist – or creative cooks! Anything that involves human intelligence is an area for possible creative achievement. So find the love that you have for the things that you create, and pass it on. Creativity is contagious.
Paron Mead is a Thai-British art educator and artist. Three years ago he set up Paron School of Art which offers programmes in Art & Design to children, teens and adults from our studio on Sukhumvit 26. He is a truly gifted artist and was kind enough to write this piece on Creativity for LoriMoon to inspire all the children out there!