Back in the day, Jean Piaget, one of psychology’s leading bad boys on child development, said an incredibly astute thing. He said, “Play is a child’s work.” It’s true! Young children learn through play, through exploration, and through interacting with their environment in new and different ways. If there is one thing that I do my darnedest to give my children, it is the opportunity and ability to deeply immerse themselves in play and exploration. The more opportunity they have, the more they are able to discover the very basics of complicated concepts like physics, biology, social interactions, and economics. Here are 7 great ways to foster creativity in children (without requiring you to take out a second mortgage!).
1. Imaginative Play
It may not seem terribly important to us boring old grown-ups, but imaginative play is not optional when it comes to a young child’s creativity! It is a pillar on which the rest is built! My youngest has been talking to her toys and food since she was 6 months old and figured out how to make language-like noises. This has transformed into making them bounce up and down, and will quickly become them talking to each other and play-acting!
Imaginitive play helps children to understand social interaction, to explore new ideas, and to try different things. Having plenty of new and different objects available to play with gives them opportunities to create new scenarios with different media. Does this mean you have to spend $1,000 at Toys R Us? Nope! New and different toys can be sticks from outside, fancy rocks they found at the park, bottle caps (all big enough that they can’t be swallowed!) or cardboard boxes! Kids love to make up new stories with random objects that they find!
2. Dress Up
Little children love props for their imaginative play, and dress up is a cheap and easy way to do this! Usually, the gaudier the better. Check out www.freecycle.com, or Craigslist for some good deals or free dress up clothes that other families have outgrown. Alternatively, the costume section of your local thrift shop will likely have some gems for you! Some other ideas:
- That cheap, spangly jewelry you got at Claire’s when you were 13 and never got rid of.
- A belt with some extra holes punched in so it will fit around tiny tummies to hold swords (or straws, whatever).
- Scarves can be fashioned into about four million different outfits.
- Bedsheets and some rope (or elastic stockings…whatever) can be turned into togas, wedding gowns, Ancient Greek God robes, etc.
- Any hats that you’ve got lying around (particularly cowboy hats and fedoras…kids LOVE those…)
3. Building Blocks
It doesn’t matter if your blocks are Legos, Linkin Logs, foam bricks, or big wooden blocks. If you little one can build and create with them, they’re the right thing! Kids love to make things, and building blocks are an excellent medium to use for this. Not only can they make versions of the things they already know, like their homes and cars, but they can also fashion structures purely from their imaginations.
4. Reading and Storytelling
Nothing is a better example of creativity than stories. Frequent reading, flipping through board book pages, and re-telling stories helps stoke the fires of imagination in little brains! Books let kids take adventures that they could never imagine on their own (The Little Prince, anyone?), and help them to think up their own exciting tales to tell and act out. Some of my favorites for little ones:
- Way Far Away on a Wild Safari, by Jan Peck
- Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr.
- The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
- The Spooky Old Tree, by Stan and Jan Berenstein
Wonderful pictures, rhythm and rhyme are your friends when picking out books for your babies. I’ve also read right from the novels that I read myself to my littlest, which I like to believe helps soothe her and fills her head with tales of dragons and adventure (but I really have no idea).
This one’s an easy one for me, because I’ve been around animals since I was just a baby. I know that it may not be so simple for other families, but just hear me out. Animals are the most basic, exciting, observable things out there for little kids to watch and imitate! They love to walk on all fours, flap their arms and squawk, and gallop like little ponies. Animals can help kids to develop new vocabulary, refine motor skills, build relationships, and learn compassion.
Now, crammed into my little suburban-esque home, I’ve got four dogs, six chickens, two cats, and a cockatoo, not to mention the two horses I have on a ranch outside of the city. I wasn’t made for city life, guys. But I am kind of on the extreme end here, if you don’t live on a farm. Even having a pet lizard or guinea pig, just someone to help take care of and to befriend is enough! And if you really can’t have animals in your house, you can always put up a bird feeder and a birdhouse outside and have fun seeing if you can recognize your animal friends each day!
On a similar note, being outside is going to give your kids a LOT of experience in just a short amount of time, for exactly $0! My youngest can always find a stick or some dirt that will fascinate her for hours (she is only 9 months old, so the whole world is filled with wonder), but outside gives kids room to run, tumble, climb, and yell. All things that help develop creativity, imagination, and (on a more boring note) gross motor and social skills. I’m fortunate in that I have a ranch that I can take my kids to to explore (woods, pastures, ponds, all kinds of stuff), but you don’t need that to get your kid a little outdoor time. You can visit:
- A local park.
- A state park.
- The stream behind your church.
- Your backyard.
- Your best friend’s yard.
- A playground.
Essentially, anywhere that your little one has contact with the dirt is what we are looking for!
7. Turn off Screens
If you read this blog, you’ll encounter this over and over and over again. I think that technology absolutely has a place in our kids’ lives. How could it not? It’s everywhere! Just be careful to not replace hands-on, sensory experiences with screen time. According to the CDC, the average American child spends about four hours per day in front of some sort of screen. FOUR HOURS! When you think that a little one sleeps for about 10 hours each night, and about two hours during the day for naps, that’s 1/3 of their awake time!!!
Now, the CDC’s main concern is about how screen time decreases physical activity, and so increases childhood obesity and other related problems. However, playing games or watching programs for 1/3 of a child’s awake time has GOT to have an impact on their social and sensory development as well! Children who are not jumping, spinning, running, and falling are not developing their proprioceptive and vestibular senses. Kiddos staring at their phones while they wait to be served at a restaurant are missing out on the opportunity to engage with their families in conversation and appropriate social interactions.
Instead of screen time, try to provide more hands-on activities for your little ones to engage in. If the material is interesting (and most materials are to them!), children do not mind playing by themselves for awhile while you get some stuff done!
So there you go!
What do you like to do to foster creativity in your home?