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Fostering Creativity in Children
By Abby Connors | Updated September 15, 2018
All children have unlimited creative potential. Yet in my twenty years of teaching music enrichment classes to young children, I’ve noticed something. In almost every class, there’s one or two or three children who seem to be absolutely exploding with creativity. These are the ones who dance like dervishes at the slightest provocation, ask questions about anything and everything, and sing along exuberantly — even when they don’t know the words! They make up their own words, or happily sing nonsense syllables without a trace of self-consciousness. Where does this kind of unstoppable creativity come from?
DNA only builds the nuts and bolts of our minds, like Geppetto built Pinocchio — it takes a little fairy dust to bring real creativity to life. This fairy dust comes in the form of caring, involved adults — one or a handful — who share their time, energy and imaginations.
It’s never too early for children to enjoy the creative benefits of play. Even newborns respond to bouncing rhymes, gentle tickles, and peek-a-boo. As they grow to be toddlers, you can make funny faces together, share horsey rides, build with blocks, and play with puppets, stuffed animals, and simple dolls. Get on the floor and look in their eyes and be part of their playtime world. Toddlers don’t need brand names or TV characters to play with. And when I first heard about smartphone apps with games for toddlers, I was appalled. There will be plenty of time to learn to press buttons for a quick fix of entertainment. What a growing, creative mind needs are loving, playful adults and toys that support their imaginations. Many websites have great ideas for homemade toys, and some wonderful companies like Explorations Early Learning (explorationsearlylearning.com) and Larsen Toy Lab (larsentoylab.com) make “low-tech,” simple, yet ingenious toys that encourage creativity.
Music has been called “creative play with sound” (Brandt et al., 2012). The first of your baby’s senses to be fully developed is her hearing, so music should be a part of her life from the beginning. Sing every day and play all kinds of soothing, relaxing and fun music. Older babies and toddlers will also love to play instruments with you, banging on drums (or pots and pans), shaking rattles and shakers, and jingling bells. Studies show that making music with their parents may help babies be more sensitive to music and more communicative in general (Gerry et al., 2012).
Enjoying art projects together is also important. As soon as your baby is able, get out the finger paints and crayons (always supervise, of course.) Scribbling is fun, and not only for seeing the marks created on paper. The motion of scribbling, which is generally repetitive and rhythmic, promotes physical, sensory expression. Babies also love to poke holes, smush around, and draw lines in a bit of whipped cream or pudding on a paper plate or high chair tray. Making collages with all kinds of materials is fun too. There are lots of wonderful ideas for more art experiences in the book “First Art for Toddlers and Twos.” Expressing himself with art will increase your toddler’s confidence in his creative abilities.
And don’t forget to dance! Research indicates that infants “may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music” (Zentner and Eerola, 2010). Sing and bounce your baby on your knee, and when he can toddle, do the “toddler bounce” to your favorite rock, folk, or show tunes. Clap your hands, swing your arms. Watch how your toddler moves and copy him — it’s tremendously empowering for him to “lead the way.” Toddlers are also excited and engaged by dancing with their favorite stuffed animals or (soft) baby dolls. Simple props such as hats and scarves can also add to the fun. Dancing is a natural, age-appropriate way to work off some of that toddler energy and express thoughts and feelings creatively.
The natural world is the ultimate toy to stir your toddler’s imagination. Most toddlers are fascinated by the sight and sound of water in streams and puddles and will stir it with sticks or throw pebbles in it to see what happens. They love to dig in dirt or sand with trucks, shovels, or their bare hands. Autumn leaves can be arranged in piles, pictures, or “families” of big-leaf parents and small-leaf children. Encourage your toddler to listen to birds singing — and to sing back to them. Watch the clouds move and change shape. Talk about what you see and hear together.
When it comes to creativity, a good rule of thumb: “If it isn’t fun, don’t do it.” Be observant. If your toddler looks uninterested or is getting tired, stop and move on to something else. This may be after two minutes or twenty, depending on the day and your toddler’s mood.
And remember, it’s all about the process, not the product. Go easy on the praise, the compliments, the “good job!”s and the “oohs” and “aahs.” The goal isn’t for your toddler to perform at Carnegie Hall or have paintings hung in the Louvre. It’s to introduce your toddler to the sheer joy of using her mind and body to imagine, pretend, and create.
Brandt, Anthony, Molly Gebrian, L. Robert Slevc. Music and Early Language Acquisition. Frontiers in Psychology, 2012; 3
Gerry, David, Andrea Unrau, Laurel J. Trainor. Active music classes in infancy enhance musical, communicative and social development. Developmental Science, 2012; 15 (3): 398
Zentner, Marcel, Tuomas Eerola. Rhythmic engagement with music in infancy. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2010.
©2013 Abigail Flesch Connors. All rights reserved.
Abby Connors is an early-childhood music teacher and author of Shake, Rattle and Roll: Rhythm Instruments and More for Active Learning. ...