Fostering creativity in kids

Learn how to foster creative environments and situations for youth to practice the essential skill of creativity.

Creativity isn’t a skill that can be taught and you won’t find it on the Targeting Life Skills Model.  Yet, we know that it’s important.  Creativity for young people is incredibly important and in 4-H we develop opportunities for youth to discover their own interests.  It’s through those interests, says Michigan State University Extension, which youth act creatively and naturally build skills- life skills- that will help them to be successful throughout life.

What is creativity?  According to the Encyclopedia of Children’s Health, creativity is defined as the ability to think up and design new inventions, produce works of art, solve problems in new ways or develop an idea based on an original, novel or unconventional approach.  By looking at that definition, it’s easy to make a connection between creativity and life skills.  It’s essential to have a creative mind in order to be open to gaining life skills.

According to the University of California, Berkeley, because creativity is a key to success in nearly everything we do, creativity is a key component of health and happiness and a core skill to practice with kids.  In an article, 7 Ways to Foster Creativity in You Kids by Christine Carter, Ph.D., she suggests the following ideas:

  1. Provide the resources they need for creative expression: Time, space and resources are beneficial.
  2. Make your home a Petri dish for creativity: Create an atmosphere that solicits a high volume of different ideas, but resist the urge to evaluate the ideas your kids come up with. Encourage kids to make mistakes and fail.  MSU Extension provides information about youth and failure. Don’t forget to celebrate innovation and creativity by sharing your own experiences and passions.
  3. Allow kids the freedom and autonomy to explore their ideas and do what they want. Don't be so bossy: External constraints—making them “color within the lines”—can reduce flexibility in thinking.
  4. Encourage children to read for pleasure and participate in the arts. Limit TV and other screen time in order to make room for creative activities like rehearsing a play, learning to draw or reading every book written by a favorite author.
  5. Give children the opportunity to express "divergent thought:" Let them disagree with you. Encourage them to find more than one route to a solution, and more than one solution to a problem. When they successfully solve a problem, ask them to solve it again ,but to find a new way to do it (same solution, different route). Then ask them to come up with more solutions to the same problem.
  6. Don't reward children for exhibiting creativity: incentives interfere with the creative process, reducing the quality of their responses and the flexibility of their thought.  Allow children to develop mastery of creative activities that they are intrinsically motivated to do, rather than trying to motivate them with rewards and incentives.
  7. Try to stop caring what your kids achieve: Emphasize process rather than product. One way you can do this is by asking questions about the process such as, Did you have fun? Are you finished? What did you like about that activity?  In 4-H Youth Development, adults are encouraged to use experiential learning processing questions like those prepared by Dave Hileman, 4-H Youth Specialist with the University of Missouri Extension

Don’t forget that children learn about themselves by being creative. Creativity isn’t a skill that a child is either born with or without.  It’s also not a skill that can be taught, it’s a skill that youth need to practice.  It’s important that adults remember to foster creative environments and situations for youth to practice this essential skill.

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