The following post is an entry to a contest sponsored by cottonbabies.com in response to the question:
How do you encourage a creative, artistic spirit in your baby, toddler or young child?
Part of encouraging children to discover their own creativeness means allowing them the freedom to become who they will. With four children between the ages of eight months and five years, it’s no small statement to say they are all uniquely different in their personalities. That’s obvious, and any mom can tell you the same thing. What was surprising to me when I first became a mom, however, was to discover these personalities were visible right from birth. The baby that was so relaxed right from the start, for example, is still the one who grabs any chance she can to cuddle with her dad or I. And contrarily, the one who- as a baby- burst into tears when a stranger came in her sight is still sensitive to new situations today.
How, then, does a parent encourage such ranging personalities to grow together while becoming their own individual who realizes their own talents? In our house it’s not fancy toys or electronic gadgets that accomplish this. It’s not constant direction from me, but it’s giving them the foundation of an idea and letting them build upon it. It’s giving my son a pan full of flour and letting him figure out what to do with it. And then, it’s standing back and letting the floor become covered in a fine dusting of flour while he ploughs it into make believe snow banks with his trucks. It’s giving a child a lump of dough while you’re making bread to let her do what she will with it. And it’s not worrying that the little clumps of dough she formed are bumpy and too small. It’s letting her see the results of her work and being proud of her little accomplishments.
I have learned one of the most important things about raising kids is to not worry about the mess that results. There was a time when the mess worried me. I was convinced I wasn’t a good enough mom if the dishes weren’t done and the laundry was piling up. And I would feel guilty for not being this ideal homemaker I dreamed of being. Time and children have changed that, and while a clean house is still a dream, I’m okay with the mess. Allowing children to make a mess and get their hands dirty is one of the greatest ways to encourage creativity in them. It’s when the kitchen floor is covered in play dough or the table is a mess of brightly colored paint splashes, when their true spirits become visible.
One of the greatest rewards as a mother is watching my children discover their own strengths. Letting their imaginations make a town out of wooden blocks, a hunting camp out of blankets strung across chairs, a school bus out of pillows. These are the things that get them thinking, spark their creativity, and make them discover the things that bring them joy.
So much of what we become is the characteristics we were born with given a lifetime of opportunity to expand. Rigorous schedules and extracurricular activities at frighteningly young ages are not the things that bring about the joy of childhood in our children. But spending time with them- coloring at the kitchen table, laying on your backs under the stars, or pointing out cloud animals marching across the sky- these are things that open up children to their own happiness.
Creativity is not something that is taught to our children, but rather something that is discovered by them. Give them the opportunity to make messes and mistakes, bad decisions and wrong turns. Only through the process of trial and error can they truly discover what they are capable of doing. And how exciting it is to watch that discovery happen.