We want our kids to be creative, and yet, often without thinking about it, we do the very things that destroy it. Encouraging creativity requires tolerance, patience, openness, and acceptance. Busy teachers and overwhelmed parents are often short on these qualities. However, sometimes all it takes is a little reminder. So, if you catch yourself doing any of these things, then ask yourself if there isn’t another way to accomplish a similar goal.
- Discouraging Questions: Creative kids ask a lot of questions. A question that seems silly to an adult may be important in the thought process of a kid. Take kids’ questions seriously.
- Answering Questions: Taking a child’s question seriously does not necessarily mean answering it. Only answer questions if the child cannot find the answer on her own. Often, a child will ask a question that he can figure out himself if he just spends a few minutes thinking. Or, he can use a resource (besides you) to find the answer. Consider answering the question with a question: What do you think? Where could you find the answer?
- Over-Structuring: When every moment of the day is filled with an activity, there is no time to think and reflect – to be alone with one’s thoughts or to pursue an idea.
- Not Allowing for Choice: When teachers give the same assignment to everyone in a class with no room for choice or variation, children learn to jump through hoops and do what is expected. Great for passing those standardized tests but not so great for thinking creatively.
- Accepting Only One Right Way: Whether it is loading the dishwasher or solving a word problem, children need to be allowed to do things in their own way. When we make one way right and all other ways wrong, we lose the chance to explore options to find what works best for each individual.
- Giving an Example: Examples promote lazy thinking. I once had a job where I gave science presentations in elementary classrooms. Sometimes the teacher would have the kids write thank you notes. I could always tell when an example had been given by the teacher. The letters were similar. The students picked out the same things to say that they had enjoyed, asked the same questions, and signed off the same way. However, when an example wasn’t given, the letters varied quite a bit, with kids coming up with all kinds of interesting things to write about.
- Discouraging Ideas: Kids get all kinds of ideas about things they would like to try. Some of them, we as adults know, won’t work. And so we tell them, shooting down their idea and their enthusiasm and confidence along with it. Better to ask questions and encourage exploration. Most likely, the child will discover the flaws on her own. She may tweak it until she comes up with something that will work. She may try and fail. All good experiences that, with encouragement, the child can learn from. In any case, discovering that an idea will not work on your own can be oddly empowering, while having someone else tell you why your idea won’t work never is.
- Too Much Screen Time: TV, social networking, YouTube, video games, etc. all zap creativity. Limit the time your child spends doing that stuff. Yes, they need to be digitally literate. Yes, the computer is a great tool, and there are many ways to use it to be creative. But there is also a lot to be gained from real experiences and real human interaction.