Creativity in Children - How to help them be creative

Back in the day, no one had to worry about topics like this one; children were creative by nature. Today, however, it seems children are losing their natural ability to create wonderful worlds of their own. It may be because television and video games are so ubiquitous that children are losing their imagination and creativity, but I think lack of parental guidance and non-stimulating toys may also be responsible for this gigantic loss.

Let me share with you something interesting:

A study done by cognitive scientists in MIT (Massachusetts’ Institute of Technology) revealed that clear-cut instructions may hinder children’s creativity. The study involved 85 children divided in 4 groups. Each group was presented with a toy that had 4 different functions. However, each group was given different instructions on how to use it.

  • The first group was told one function of the toy with clear-cut instructions.
  • The second group was given one function of the toy, and was told that there may be more than one way to use the toy.
  • The third group was presented with the same toy while one of the investigators discovered “by accident” one of the toy’s function.
  • The fourth group was presented with the toy with no instructions at all.

The results were astonishing. The group that received clear-cut instructions played less time with the given toy and did not find the remaining 3 functions. The rest of the groups found all the functions, but only the ones who were given no instructions at all played the longest with the given toy.

How can we use these results to spark creativity in our children?

  • Provide toys that can be used in more than one way. Legos and Lincoln logs are perfect for sparking creativity, since they allow the child to build whatever comes to their imagination. Sometimes I use Jenga wooden blocks to build a variety of things.
  • Don’t tell your child how to use a toy; let her discover it on her own. If she needs help, don’t tell her directly nor give her clear-cut instructions. Rather, guide her thought with questions, such as: What can I do with this? What does this look like? If I press this button, what will happen?
  • Discover “by accident”, in front of your child, how to play with every day stuff. For example, make a car out of a box; make figures out of aluminum paper; play Chinese sticks with toothpicks.
  • Make stories with your child and let her take the lead. Allow her to come up with the characters (physical as well as emotional description), the setting, and the plot. Together, draw pictures to go along with the story.
  • Play board games differently from the conventional way. Allow the child to make the rules for the new game.
  • Arts and Crafts are a wonderful way to spark creativity. Make stuff out of everything! Egg cartons, toilet paper tubes, or plastic utensils. Give the raw materials to your child and ask her what each one of those things look like. If, for example, she says the toilet paper tube looks like an airplane, have her make one. One of the ideas that I find particularly useful is making play-doh. Children love getting their hands dirty, and making play-doh is a perfect way to meet that love.
  • Food faces are always amusing. I like the use the head of an apple or cucumbers to do this. Remember Mr. Potato Head as a cucumber and a tortilla in Toy Story 3? Yep, that's what I'm talking about!

If your child is having fun, it is unlikely that she will run to the TV for entertainment. And ultimately that should be our goal. I’m not against TV, except when it is used excessively. It kills the child’s desire to have adventures of her own, as well as her imagination and creativity. Therefore, keep your child busy and become her teacher. She will thank you for the rest of her life.

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