As parents, many of us can look back to our own childhood and remember using our imagination: creating games, art, worlds, even hanging with imaginary friends. Sparking creativity in children can happen in the classroom and in your home. At Montessori Children’s House of Denver where we work, we’re always thinking of new ways to inspire creativity and curiosity in children. If you’re looking for simple ways to spark your kids’ imagination or bring more creativity into your home, read on. These ideas will help get the creative juices flowing and can be fun for adults, too.
Create the space.
Prepare an art space with traditional art supplies as well as unexpected items. This lets children explore and create without expectation of producing a completed product. Consider having all the supplies they might need in one place so they can access them without stopping their process. For example, our classrooms have entire shelves of pencils, pens, markers, crayons, oil pastels, paints, and clay so children can quickly find them for their creative projects. You can easily do this at home by creating a cart with art supplies. Add items that aren’t traditional art supplies: old cards, puzzle pieces, string/ribbon, pipe cleaners, dry pasta, beads, newspaper/magazines, paper towel/toilet paper tubes, cardboard, wrapping paper, and lids from bottles. Change materials as you are inspired, or to reflect holidays and changing seasons.
Keep it free.
Give kids ample time to play freely without expectation or structure. Kids and adults are often busy and get sidetracked with technology devices, but creativity needs time to be fostered. Kids need unscheduled time to let their minds wander without distraction or direction. Even boredom will often initiate creative activity.
Turn off the television and limit screen time whenever possible, including phones and portable devices. It is important to allow kids’ brains to have time free from artificial stimulation.
Creativity is directly connected to movement. Activities like nature walks, yoga, dancing, stretching, swimming, bike riding, hiking, backyard games, and swinging keep body and mind connected. Regular opportunities to be active release pent-up energy, supporting sleep, digestion, behavior, and creative thought. Movement is essential for healthy growth and development of the mind.
A direct connection to nature encourages creativity. Create opportunities for children to be inspired by the beauty of the natural world all around them. Take a walk around your neighborhood, collect items from nature to explore, watch the clouds or stars, play “I Spy” outside, or create a nature table in your home. Build a snowman, sandcastle, or snow village, rake the leaves, pick flowers, weed the garden, plant seeds, or make a bird feeder. Remember to provide unstructured time outside as well. Allow ample time to explore the backyard without direction. Your children may surprise you with their innovation when left to themselves with sticks, mud, trees, and rocks.
Let your child’s imagination run wild. Provide open-ended props and tools to create their own fantasy worlds. Parents often make the mistake of buying toys that are too specific—for example, a commercial character doll. Have you ever bought something for your child only to find them more interested in the packaging than in the actual toy? In one of our classrooms, the students spent more than a week creating and exploring the possibilities of boxes that new chairs had come in. They built and designed an entire village, and eventually it became another enclosure for the classroom guinea pig. You can save old boxes, containers, socks to make sock puppets, egg cartons, and toilet paper and paper towel rolls. Instead of traditional dress-up items, create a basket with scarves, hats, belts, and other dress-up items. You can even include some of your favorite clothes.
Build it up.
Give them building materials. Blocks, Legos, and Lincoln Logs are all great for younger kids to safely explore, but as they get older, let their ideas become real creations by supplying them with wood, crates, boxes, and rocks. Challenge your child to invent a tool to solve a problem that they encounter in the home. We once had a student design and build a dog food dispenser to help feed his dog. Human brains think and solve problems better when they have physical materials to manipulate, because that engages their senses and hands.
Creativity is a process that will change and evolve as your child develops. Keep it simple. If you give children the supplies and time, they will create. Take a step back and let them try things out and use their imagination. It’s all about the experience and discovery.