Nurturing your childs's creativity By Betsy NoxonPhoto courtesy of Chicago Children's Museum
Collages made of flowers and leaves, sequins glued on Popsicle sticks and sea creatures stamped in paint on construction paper are a few of my 5-year-old's creations. He tells me a story for each of his designs. Take a few found objects, glue, paper and watch your child's imagination soar. Kids get engrossed in creating and little do they know, they are learning self-expression.
"Expressing ourselves through art gives us multiple outlets and allows us to connect with others," says Colleen Cicchetti, child psychologist at Children's Memorial Hospital.
She continues: "Young children's thoughts are not as structured as an adult. They are trying to make sense out of a lot of information and do this in creative and different ways."
It's a form of exercise for their minds. So no matter how old children get, finding a way to keep them creative and imaginative is always important.
Creativity stimulates a child's imagination while helping them learn and understand the world around them. Imaginative play also teaches basic concepts, helps them deal with life's stresses, gives them a sense of power and connects them with people. Even as kids grow and get busy with school and activities, staying in touch with their creative side allows them to be resourceful while being a means to express their anxieties and feelings. Throughout our lives we tap into our creative abilities, allowing us to seek new and unique solutions to problems and be inventive thinkers.
Nurturing a child's creativity helps them tackle tasks in unusual and distinctive ways. As parents, we can take steps to inspire and nurture creativity in our kids at any age.
Beyond the art table
Creativity comes naturally to the young. A 4-year-old may paint a picture of a purple tree with blue leaves, or build a rocket out of toilet paper rolls, buttons and acorns, then tell you a story about his work. The possibilities are endless to a child. Kids even express their creativity in the clothes they choose to wear and the things they enjoy doing.
Sure, drawing, painting and sculpting are a lot of fun. But there are other places for kids to flex their creative muscles and it exercises more than their creative juices.
Research shows involvement in the arts can help develop independent learning and critical thinking skills. Participating in artistic activities, such as storytelling, painting, drama and games, will help kids stimulate their imagination, deal with emotions and make sense of their environment. "They are inherently trying to master their universe," says Cicchetti.
Melanie Brown, co-director of the children's program at Lillstreet Art Center in Chicago, explains that kids can learn basic shapes, colors and counting through art. The creative process allows children to explore their senses, work on verbal proficiency and develop fine and gross motor skills. (Fine motor skills involve small muscle movements such as a holding a pencil and gross motor skills involve large muscle movements, such as walking.)
Experts agree that exercising the imagination also leads to developing critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Children also learn communication. "Parents can engage in a dialogue with their kids about what they are doing, while the child can relay a narrative," says Laura Reischel, director of arts education for the Chicago Children's Museum and an artist. Kids develop language skills as they talk about their creations and express their feelings.
Furthermore, art can be confidence building, especially for special needs kids. "Outreach art and drama programs offer special needs kids an outlet while giving them confidence, less structure and less verbal demands," Cicchetti says.
Enjoy the process
Anne Karsten of Logan Square believes there is no right or wrong creative expression. When a 2-year-old explores with paint, the fact that she is using a brush, mixing paint and putting it onto paper is more significant than the end result.
Karsten's 7-year-old daughter, Katie Barnhart, who attends classes at Lillstreet Art Center, will sculpt with about anything, "Once she grabbed some wire and twine in the backyard and wrapped it around the fence making her own sculpture. Parents tend to focus too much on objects and don't realize the skill of manipulation and letting kids transform materials."
Erika Miller, museum educator for Kohl Children's Museum in Wilmette, recommends parents step back and allow the child to explore. She says: "Ask your child open-ended questions such as, ‘What is happening when you mix the colors together?' Let the kids have the experience and don't be afraid of being messy. Allow kids to make their own choices."
Mary Tapia, founder and art educator at Studio 34 in Glenview, takes things step by step. Tapia works with school-aged kids on art project. She points out every step of the process and helps them shape their techniques so eventually they can do it on their own. "When a student builds a horse out of clay, we'll look back at his sketch and discuss how the sculpture could be different so that it matches their initial drawing," she says. She adds with planning and projecting the outcome, children become more aware of their skills and art techniques.
Keep it simple
Most kids can hardly wait to get their hands on Play-Doh, clay or finger paint-and rub it all over the walls or floors. What's a parent to do?
Sometimes the mess is unavoidable, Joan Matthews of Northbrook says. She gave her 11-year-old daughter, Laura Williams, plenty of different materials and the floor. The arrangements became her art.
Organizing a place at home to keep all types of materials on hand allows your child to act on their desire to create whenever the mood strikes. Cicchetti says her 5-year-old daughter, Caitlin, has a drawer of materials she loves to dive into when she comes home in the afternoons. She uses this creative time to unwind.
Karsten says parents tend to think materials are too expensive or precious for children, but you can buy stickers at an outlet store and use and reuse them. And in the hands of an artist, a paper towel tube can become a submarine periscope or an elephant's trunk. You will also be keeping a tradition of reusing and recycling. Just find a place to store cardboard tubes, yogurt cups, pieces of wood, plastic film containers, tin foil and other common household objects, which can become works of art. Once you have the supplies, all you have to do is carve out some time to let your kid's creativity run wild.
Inspiring kids to explore art gets more challenging as they get older. Kids get busy with homework, sports and other activities. But you can make them turn off the TV, video game or computer and provide them with the freedom of some downtime to think and daydream. Remember "quiet time" as a young child? Sometimes we can be most inspired and creative when we clear our minds.
Parents can also be role models by taking their kids to museums, theater, art festivals, musicals and art exhibits. Any arts exposure is beneficial. Listen to different types of music and see all kinds of performances. Kuehner recommends, "Be consistent and constant and in the process avoid judgment. Enjoy art as a family. Remember, art is not just drawing and painting."
Creativity at home and away
Sometimes, you need to let the creative juices flow elsewhere-at a museum, for example. Many have kid-sized tables, chairs and materials and studios set up for making a mess.
DuPage Children's Museum's Signature Program is titled "My First Mess." Jane Rossom, who has a degree in early childhood research and is public program coordinator, starts with an unusual material: cooked spaghetti. "After I cook the spaghetti, the kids sprinkle sifted tempera paint on their pasta then throw the painted pasta on a paper-covered wall," Rossom says. "The kids see the chemical changes of the paint and have a great time. We combine science and art, plus the parents love it."
Activities, exhibits and programs at the museum are based on the "constructivist" theory of learning that implies that learning in one area supports and stimulates learning in others. The museum takes its food fixation to another level on Jan. 22 when cake decorator Felice Ehrman presents a program allowing children ages 6-10 to decorate and take home their own 6-inch cake.
At the Hands On Children's Art Museum in Chicago's Beverly neighborhood, 10 studios offer a variety of art options, along with classes such as beading, art dolls and clay. The museum even has a Navajo weaving loom for kids to try.
At the Chicago Children's Museum on Navy Pier, kids 5 and older can experiment with silk screens or paper-making machines, and make batik and tie dye fabric. Every week the museum has a different art project or workshop for children. They can glue, paint and create with paints, crayons and paper.
At Wonder Works, a children's museum in Oak Park, the "North Avenue Art Works" exhibit allows children to paint, sculpt and learn printmaking.
And at all the museums, when they tire of the art projects, children will be able to stretch their imagination at the different exhibits through dress-up and interactive displays.
The growth of creativity
In his book, Your Child and His Art, author Viktor Lowenfeld described the stages of art development in children. They are: Stage 1: Scribbling, ages 3-4. Children use a zigzag fashion or circular motion with drawing tools, their work is exploratory, color is unrealistic; the child begins to draw symbols like circles, crosses and lines, and later the scribbles become more controlled.
Stage 2: Preschematic, ages 4-7. At age 4, a child begins to show definite people forms, making a circle for the head and two vertical lines for legs. Sometimes there is a mouth, arms, feet or shoes; objects are drawn at random and they are not in sequence or proportion. At this stage, form is more important than color. By age 7, a child has established a mental picture of an object, repeated with each painted repetition of the object. For example, each time the child paints a house it will look very much like all the other houses he or she has painted.
Stage 3: Schematic, ages 6-9. At this stage, sky lines (usually blue) and base lines (usually green) appear on the top and bottom of drawings. Items drawn between these lines usually are proportional, and they are on the base line as appropriate.
Betsy Noxon is a writer living in Glenview with her husband and two sons.