How to Grow a Creative Child For Our Planet’s Sake

Via on May 12, 2010

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My contention is that creativity is now as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.

-Sir Ken Robinson

Cultivating a creative child is oddly similar to gardening. You heartily prepare your soil, sprinkle some seeds, choose your tools, tend with love, and cross your fingers for a bountiful harvest. The difference lies in the fact that for many, a backyard garden is a labor of love. Oh, if that could only be the case for creativity.

We must support creativity. Not only for it’s own sake, but for the sake of our increasingly complex world struggling under the weight of disease, war, Global Warming, poverty, hunger and vanishing resources. We can expect the world’s population of approximately 6 billion to become 12 billion by 2054 if the current rate of growth continues. Every ounce of innovation, problem-solving, and divergent thinking will be required to bear this load.

The ‘one right answer’ approach (think children spending the day shading ovals with number 2 pencils) is not sufficient to tackle these grave, global issues. One May 10, 2010, The New York Times proclaimed ‘The Battle Against Aids is Failing,’ while an estimated 3.9 million gallons of oil has spewed into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion. We need citizens with big ideas here.

Unfortunately, our children are being educated in another direction. Mainstream US schools, led by No Child Left Behind legislation, and widespread cultural trends, promote direction-based thinking. At Clementine Studio, I fretted over evidence of this fact every day. Inevitably, a child would approach a table laden with inspiring and colorful art materials and ask, “What am I supposed to do here?” afraid to make a step in any direction but the ‘correct’ one.

In order to balance the educational and societal trending toward like-mindedness and objectivity, and to encourage the development of creative thinkers, we must start with our youngest citizens.

Art experiences provide rich, developmental opportunities for the development of creativity. Since art is an open-ended and unstructured activity, it requires independence, decision-making, problem-solving, and the creation of something new; all essential components toward the development of a creative mind.

What if we tackled this beast with a trowel? I’m a fan of merging our existing sense of urgency with a labor of love. Applying the very same careful and disciplined techniques used to cultivate a bountiful garden will also work to inspire creativity in children. Learning to think creatively is accessible to every human mind, and requires patience and practice. Most of the work of growing a creative child has to do with adjusting our own, perhaps uncreative habits, judgments and expectations. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Prepare the Soil: Create a space for creating where your child has room, independence and permission. Think of it as a space for possibilities. Help your child to stock it, maintain it, and use it. Resist the temptation to use stencils, craft kits with directions, and rubber stamps.

2. Choose Your Tools: You can set so many creative examples by reusing, recycling and reinventing old materials, trash and other ‘art’ supplies. Corks and paper rolls can be sculpture, fruit trays and vegetables can make prints, and old tin foil can be a costume. Resist the temptation to use overly processed art supplies. It’s the same idea as food; simple is healthier.

3. Fertilize Your Garden: Children will inevitably develop independently, but think of how much more rich the outcome when they receive caring, but non-judgmental support. When children begin to make art to please you, you’ll know it’s time extract yourself, and give them some space to please themselves. Resist the temptation to judge or name your child’s art. That’s a job for the artist.

4. Enjoy the Harvest: Celebrate your child’s art! Hang it up in your home art gallery, make it into a ‘book’ at the copy center and read it. With permission, give it away! Don’t limit yourself to visual art. Perform a play, sing a song, and dance with scarves. The more you encourage creative thinking and self-expression, the more your child will prefer it. Resist the temptation to edit or ‘fix’ your child’s art. That is also a job for the artist.

About Diana Mercer

I've been delighting in and learning from children for almost 20 years as a teacher, and former owner of Clementine Studio: Art Space for Children. I love to watch a child's spirit emerge and develop through the process of art. I'm also a big fan of stilling my mind with yoga, meditation, and the art of mindfulness, cooking up a fresh, local and organic dinner from the Farmer's Market, making sweet music with my friends, and baking fancy birthday cakes.

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2 Responses to “How to Grow a Creative Child For Our Planet’s Sake”

  1. [...] This is a lovely post I found on Elephant Journal. I love the gardening metaphor for developing, enabling and facilitating creativity. What a great discourse for teachers to promote connectedness, thinking about learning and the process of being a teacher. [...]

  2. diana says:

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment Ariana. Your suggestion of 'art for everyone, every day.' rings! It seems that we've become so removed from our own creativity and consider art an amusing extra, rather than an essential component of a rich life well lived.

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