How to Foster and Encourage Creativity and Imagination
Before I had kids (you know, when I was a perfect parent) I had grand ideas of all the ways I was going to foster and encourage creativity and imagination in my children. Then I had two boys. And the game changed.
Not that I think boys are any more or less creative than girls, but they have tested my notions of what I should do to fuel their brains. Of course, reading and reading and reading and reading is good for any kid – boy or girl. But beyond that, I have had to readjust my strategies.
My boys are not crafty, artsy, dress up kinds of kids. They rarely ever want to color or draw. At our day care provider's house they will play with the dress up bin, but only because she has various superhero, power ranger, ninja turtle costumes from Halloween clearance over the years available. And they really only opt for the big trunk on rainy days when they can't go outside.
So what do I do to foster and encourage creativity in my boys? Here are five things I try to do regularly to grow their little brains:
· Stock the toy bins. Not that every toy that enters our doors is educational and development (ha!), but we have a fair amount of them. While I do have art supplies available and within reach at all times, my boys rarely ever choose to color, craft, or anything along those lines. And that’s ok. I have a number of other toys that encourage open-ended play and creativity. My boys have several Imaginext sets and accessories and love to enagage in imaginative play with them. The Batcave is basically a boy version of a doll house, and there are many well thought out scenes between Batman, Robin, and Joker in our living room. They also love any kind of little "guys" from army guys, to happy meal toy figures, to Squinkees. These type of toys require kids to create their own games or stories to play with them, thus encouraging imagination.
· Make our own. I try to encourage a fair amount of DIY with my kids. One reason is because we can't afford to buy every little item they think they need, so we also teach about money and budgets. But making our own encourages creativity in using what we already have in new ways. Need another superhero car? How can we use a regular car and make it into a superhero one? This is actually the most frequent time the markers, paper, and tape come out of the baskets. We also make a lot of "props" out of Legos, such as houses, chairs, and vehicles for action figures and other little guys.
· Provide unstructured time. I'm going to be honest here – some of the most creative play times I have seen out of my kids have been when I was just too tired or lazy to play with them! Often times on a weekend morning The Coach and I like to sit around with a cup of coffee and watch the news or sports highlights. We usually send the kids off to play on their own in their play room. I often overhear the best play going on when I walk by the door. They set up elaborate hot wheels tracks, or get the pirate ship out and enact a battle, or set up all the stuffed animals with their own toys for a room full of fun. While initially my kids will often complain that they want someone to play with them or that they don't know what to do, given a little space they find that spark of creativity that allows them to make up their own games and entertainment.
· Ask questions. I try to ask my kids open ended questions as much as I can. I ask questions like, "What do you think will happen next?" Or, "How would you do that if it were you?" When we are reading stories, watching a movie or show, or telling each other about our days are perfect spots to slide these type of questions into our conversation. I've been reading chapter books with Roo and I often ask him what he thinks will happen next when we put our bookmark in for the night. When Monkey tells me about things in his day that were frustrating I will ask him if he could do that part of his day over, what would he do differently.