Cultivate creativity through play

Children enter the world curious and with powerful imaginations. When allowed to flow, their creative juices have social, emotional, intellectual and even physical benefits. Creative kids are skillful problem solvers, resourceful and better prepared to survive in a world that won't always treat them well and in which things won't always go their way.

"Children who often experience curiosity and wonder, and act on these feelings to explore their world, fare better at school, in relationships, at work, and end up being intelligent, creative, satisfied people," says Todd Kashdan, psychology professor at George Mason University.

Beyond personal benefits, our complex world increasingly needs creative people to develop solutions to address complex challenges.

"Creativity is one of the most important economic resources of the 21st century," says Gary Gute, director of the Creative Life Research Center. "The call from business, industry and education is for people to think more creatively, not only to solve problems, but also to identify problems that need to be solved."

What are some ways parents can cultivate creativity in their kids?

Let them play

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that sets out universally accepted rights for children, says children have the right to play. 

Free play, play that is unstructured and in which a parent's role is minimal, is vital because it expands children’s creativity. It's energizing and allows children to explore, investigate, question, contemplate, problem solve and socialize.

Children have an amazing innate ability to be creative when they play freely on their own, and unfortunately, the act of overparenting dampens or even wipes out that innate ability,” says to Mike Lanza, author of Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood into a Place for Play. He feels it’s important for parents to figure out how to facilitate children's creativity without managing it.

Free play also shouldn't incorporate elaborate play spaces or the latest and greatest toys.  Parents will do their kids a favor by keeping play simple. 

NoCo mom Melina Berthardt says, “We have no cable TV. Rather, I collect all kinds of things, like toilet paper rolls, boxes, empty shampoo and dish soap bottles and other containers so my daughter can play pharmacy or grocery shopping like I did when I was a kid. She uses her imagination to have fun.”

Kick 'em out 

A natural way to help your kids become more creative is to turn them loose outdoors. Give them space to roam and explore their environment.  

If your children aren't used to being kicked outdoors to invent their own fun, they may tell you they’re “bored” and “there’s nothing to do.” That's a good thing, says Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids. “Boredom is good for kids. It forces them to entertain themselves, which ignites their creative intelligence. From this, they learn that they can solve their own problems. This is huge!” 

Scott Sampson, CEO and president of Vancouver's Science World and author of How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature, understands it can be difficult to convince kids to play outside if they're accustomed to being entertained by video games and the like. He says, "The best way to get kids outdoors is to take them there." Parents should lead the way into the great outdoors and model the fun that can be had in nature.

Limit screen time 

Screen time can be a brain and creativity drain. But since digital devices are a ubiquitous part of modern life, what's a parent to do? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends families develop a media-use plan. 

“Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep,” says Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, lead author of the AAP policy statement, “Media and Young Minds.” She says parents should be their child’s ‘media mentor.’ That means teaching them how to use it as a tool to create, connect and learn.  

Support their interests 

Too often, children are enrolled in programs and activities of their parents' choosing rather than those in which they're truly interested or show a propensity toward. To help match children's activities with their passions, parents should ask themselves: What grabs her attention? What excites him? What does she like to do? What makes him smile and laugh?

By encouraging and supporting children's interests, parents will nurture their sense of self, help them discover what they like and are good at, build their self-esteem and confidence, and cultivate their creativity.