Bringing out a child's potential is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a parent, and encouraging a child to be creative is incredibly important for later development. But where to start? Here I look at some simple ways in which you can encourage your child and enjoy a truly fulfilling parental experience.
1. Set aside time for 'creative play.'
It's very easy with children to assume that they are automatically going to want to go and draw something, or play with their cars, or paint- for some children, of course, this is true, and they are quite happy going off and playing make-believe; however, it's important not to fall into the trap of thinking that just because they are children they are always going to want to do this. And look, it's ridiculously pressurising being a parent these days- a lot of you are going off to work over 8 hours a day, commuting back, and then faced with an evening of 'being a parent'- no matter how much you might want to, it's not the time to knock back a few pinots and zone out in front of Married at First sight (not that I'm obsessed by that show or anything....). But I can promise you that if you make the time for it, you will find it such a useful tool: make it a positive and proactive option for your child with specific 'creative play' time- all you need to do is 10-15 minutes (longer if you can, but of course on a daily basis this can be hard!) where the TV goes off, the crayons or the books come out and there is a positive emphasis on doing these together. I can 100% promise you that if you make it a part of everyday life you'll soon be looking forward to it and reaping the rewards.
2. Don't be afraid to join in with creative play
Ok, so this is a HUGE one- and it's such a big deal because whether you think it or not, you are a huge role model to your child- your likes and dislikes affect them hugely, and that ranges from everything from the music they'll listen to to the books they read. I know that when you're trying to feed them broccoli or get them ready in the morning it doesn't feel like they are on your side at all, but in reality you are their compass for the whole big wide world, so the best way you can ready them for that is interaction. The same process goes for creative play- if you join in with them, they will see that as permission for them to explore their own imaginations and creativity to much greater depths. There are a few things to bear in mind here, however; be very careful to avoid saying things like 'that's silly' or 'that wouldn't happen'- any negative language in creative play or creative activities in general will have an adverse effect- children will stop playing, drawing or dancing for fear of being 'wrong.' Also, remember that children don't understand humour in the way adults do- if a child brings you a picture that looks like a squashed potato and tells you it's a picture of you or daddy, don't laugh- they won't get why it's funny, and it could lead to serious tears.
Remember: There are no wrong answers- and that includes for you!
3. But don't be afraid to set boundaries
My mum (a very wise woman) recently said to me: "Giving a child no boundaries is like putting them in a pitch black room with no walls: they can't feel the edges so they never move out of the middle. If you give them boundaries you give them walls- they can start to feel the space, play around with it and feel secure." I love this so much, and the same is true with creative play and reaching potential: YES, creativity is amazing, but it needs to be on your terms. YES, painting is fantastic, but not when you're trying to get them ready for school. YES, imagination games are wonderful, but not the minute you are getting them into bed (I mean, who hasn't experienced that one?!?). Creative time and creative play needs to happen on your time and your terms- if it's literally going to disrupt your whole day, or make you late, then it's only going to stress you out and make you angry- which isn't going to work for your child either. Don't be afraid to say no- you're just popping a wall there and making it clear and therefore more secure. It doesn't mean you're stifling them, but it is a really valuable lesson in mutual respect and timeframes- it also means that when you do have creative time together, it makes it even more special.
"Giving a child no boundaries is like putting them in a pitch black room with no walls: they can't feel the edges so they never move out of the middle. If you give them boundaries you give them walls- they can start to feel the space, play around with it and feel secure."
4. It will get messy.
It's creative play. It involves things like paint. And glue. And stickers which somehow magically end up on the cat. It is what it is- creativity is all about exploring materials, enjoying the sensory aspect of the activity as much as the outcome, and- yes- getting messy. Getting their hands in it, spreading it around and generally covering themselves in every available material is just the way kids interact with what they're doing and explore their environment- and personally, I think it's fantastic! However, I totally get that not everyone is a fan of mess, so here's a few things to bear in mind:
- Have a space, even if it's a corner of the front room, where you can put a plastic sheet down if there's going to be something really messy involved, and make sure you do supervise the activity- the biggest mistake is walking off halfway through the painting and then realising that it's all gone quiet....
- Consider sensory items which are easy to clean up- water based paints are a MUST, and playdough, dry rice, pasta and cleanable PVC glue are a godsend! Creative doesn't have to mean 'wet'- children can still play with dry pulses, beads, wool, felt- the list is endless!
- If you really struggle, consider saving the real messy stuff for the summer months when you can do it all outside- water play is brilliant fun in the heat!
5. Don't forget to encourage your child
One of the most rewarding things about being a creative entertainment company is that you learn how to look at the world differently; or, to be more exact, look at the world like a child. Encouraging children to interact with the world around them is one of the simplest ways to encourage creativity, and you'll soon find yourself taking real joy from it too! The next time you go for a walk, get your little ones to feel the leaves, pick out textures they like or dislike, the smells, the colours: ask them about their favourite thing in the woods/the beach/ even down the street! If you see a picture, ask them how it makes them feel; if you play music and they like it, ask them if they think it's a happy or a sad song? It sounds so obvious, but it's really easy to forget, and I can't stress the change you see in children- and indeed yourself- when you start to really pay attention to the world around you. You'll also find so much delight in their answers, and trust me it really does make the mundane rather magical- you just have to invest the time.
Getting a child to reach their creative potential isn't really about following a 'step by step' or prescribed programme; it's almost like re-learning to be a child yourself and passing that knowledge on. Just keep these five things in your mind during your interaction with your little ones, and try and find time to set aside just to be creative- by taking the lead and playing with your children yourself, I guarantee you'll really see them (and you) flourish and grow.
Are you already a creative family? What do you do to encourage creativity? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Don't forget to comment below!
Love, Poppy (Rosie)
Rosie is founder and CEO of Poppy's Parties, with over 6 years of experience in creative drama teaching, party entertainment and immersive theatre experiences.