Practical Ways to Encourage Creativity in Kids

By Marjorie Sarnat Posted 7/1/12 | Updated 3/2/23

If you can dream it, you can do it. —Walt Disney

As the mom of two incredible kids, one special needs and one identified as gifted, and as a former teacher, I know that creative genius can arise out of any child anywhere. You cannot predict creative aptitude by looking at typical classroom performance. My special needs daughter astonishes me with her handmade folk dolls as much as my gifted son does with his writing skills.

Dream On

Creative kids are often daydreamers. The word, "daydreamer," has traditionally held negative connotations. Words such as unaware, lazy, and unmotivated are often used to describe daydreamers. But the truth is almost always the opposite. What's going on in a dreamer's head is likely to be original ideation, visualization, imaginative thought, and creative problem solving. Daydreaming is a good thing.

Dreamers Shape the Future

If your student is overcome by a fascinating thought that has nothing to do with the history lecture going on, forgive him for spending a few moments on his path to change the world. Your dreamer could be laying the early foundation of a groundbreaking innovation he'll someday bring to reality.

My teachers always thought I was daydreaming, but I wasn't. I was imagining. Some of the things I imagined became drawings at home, and some of those drawings would later evolve into top selling products. By "later" I mean years later.

On a lighter note, math was my favorite subject in grade school because the paper we used had no lines. I drew my best sketches of classmates during math. I tried to make the case that it was ok because I was working with "figures," but my teachers were not happy.

Knowledge Is Power — But Not By Itself

Don't get me wrong. I believe that a good education is essential for everyone, and daydreamers need control if they are to learn. Knowledge plus creativity plus motivation is the magic 3-part formula that leads to achievement. Nothing great has been achieved without creativity in the mix. Of course the world needs top students, but it needs kids who imagine every bit as much.

Promote Creativity

Tell your child that creativity is a valuable part of his brainpower, and encourage him to exercise it. Kids crave problem solving challenges, imagination games, thought prompts, and other idea sparkers that get their creative juices flowing.

Idea Catchers

All great achievers, today and in the past, share the same habit: recording and keeping ideas. Idea catcher journals are a great way for kids to collect their imaginative thoughts, observations, and sketches. Ideas, the precious elements of achievement, must be captured before they drift away.

  • Small spiral bound notebooks and sketchbooks make great Idea Catchers because they're inexpensive, easy to use, and ballpoint pens hook onto their bindings. When you're out and about a journal without a pen is useless.
  • It's fun for kids to personalize the covers by gluing drawings and interesting pictures onto the front, adding a title if they wish. Use a permanent glue stick or clear acrylic gel as an adherent. After the glue dries protect the cover by brushing on a coat of clear acrylic gel.

Filling the Journal

  • Ask your child to scout for ideas everywhere. Suggest that he or she observes nature, listens to words, and discovers things online, in museums, in the backyard, and in the family room. When you're in a store, ask her to go shopping for ideas. Challenge your child to come away from every excursion, near or far, with at least one new idea for his journal.
  • Explain that sometimes ideas will just pop up out of nowhere. Whether wacky or wonderful, all ideas are worth recording.
  • Prompt your child to enter wishes, inspiring quotes, funny jokes, or positive thoughts along with his or her imaginative ideas.
  • Encourage your child to leaf through his or her journal often; it may inspire him to elaborate on an idea, adding notes and sketches.
  • Ask your child to start a list of problems that need solutions. Great inventions begin by identifying problems.

Creative Playground

Encourage your child's mental growth by providing a creative playground. This playground has three requirements:

  1. It must be free from distractions such as television, hyperactive dogs, interruptions, and loud noises. Your child needs an environment allows him to concentrate.
  2. The playground must have supplies such as pencils, writing paper, art paper, markers, reference materials, construction toys, clay, puzzles and games that require thought, weird things, natural things, curiosities, electronic devices, music makers, a magnifying glass, and anything else that leads to discovery and self-expression.
  3. Let your child have plenty of unstructured time for imagining, creating, and playing with ideas.

Help Your Child Develop an Idea

Select — Ask you child to select a favorite idea to bring closer to reality. The key word is closer. Tell your child that his beginning attempts to develop an idea can be imperfect experiments to see what looks or sounds good or what might work. Even failures yield valuable information, and famous artists and inventors revisit and refine ideas all the time. Thomas Edison said, "I haven't failed. I've found ten thousand ways that don't work." The important thing is to believe in your idea and don't give up.

Match Tasks With Skills — A task that's not challenging to your child may bore him, while a challenge that's beyond his skills could frustrate him. It's important that your child's task matches his skills.

For example, perhaps your child has an idea for a remote control clothes hanger. Cool! Is she able to research how remote controls work, then apply that knowledge to sketches for her invention? Can she construct a model out of a real hanger and other materials to see how it might look? Maybe she prefers to write an ad for her concept, and not worry about how it works. If she's not ready for a next step, save her idea for later.

Perhaps your child has an idea for a story about a seahorse. Does he have the writing skills he needs to tell the story? If not, could you write down the words for him, or can he tell it into a voice recorder? Could he tell his story through a series of paintings? Could he act it in a skit?

Clear Goals — Make sure your child has a clear goal. Ask him to write it down or state it out loud. For example, "Design three unusual mazes for others to enjoy." If his goal is complex, such as design and make a board game, help him break it down into steps, the first step being the immediate goal.

Feedback — Be available to give your child feedback often, encouraging him to continue exploring possibilities and creating. It's important that he knows you care about his creative pursuits. Offer constructive criticism and guide him to find solutions, but don't be in charge. Let your child express his ideas his own way and make the final decisions.

Place To Focus — Provide a place like a creative playground where your child can fully focus on his task without distractions.

Empower your child to be his own brand of creative genius by letting him know that his creativity is valuable, and by giving him the tools and setting to stretch his creative skills.

©2012 by Marjorie Sarnat. All rights reserved.