What Does Creativity Look Like?
You might consider someone like me, a movie producer, to be a creative person. I don’t look creative (you wouldn’t be able to pick me out of a crowd), but I’ve written, produced, directed, and edited lots of dramatic, comedy and documentary short films; I’ve written a few books; and I’ve designed a number of curriculum series. I think I know something about being creative.
I know that I’m not the source of my own creativity. That credit has to go to my mother and father. (I could trace it all the way back to God, but since all children are intrinsically creative in their own unique ways, the expression of creativity has more to do with nurture than nature.)
Think of Mozart’s father, or Jean Renoir’s father, or Thomas Edison’s mother – for every creative person, there is almost always a supportive parent or mentor somewhere near them. Here’s Edison’s story:
In school, [his] mind often wandered, and his teacher, the Reverend Engle, was overheard calling him “addled.” This ended Edison’s three months of official schooling. Edison recalled later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.” His mother taught him at home.
I’ve reflected on my upbringing, as well as watched what my wife is doing with our own three girls (all of whom show the strong expression of creative minds), and I believe I can offer some direction on ways you can help your children be creative.
Help Children Be Creative
1) Observe what they are good at and encourage. Notice that I said what they are good at, not what you would like them to be good at. My mother saw that I was a good writer and always told me I was one – in some ways, she made me the writer I am today. She and my father always praised my creative work, be it drawings or stories or models or whatever. In fact, they always went out of their way to compliment me on whatever I was doing.
This sort of constant approval does wonders for a child’s creative confidence. Looking back, I know for a fact that a lot of what I did at a young age was likely quite mediocre. But unless you are encouraging your kids from the very earliest ages forward, they will struggle to develop the confidence necessary to be continually creative, no matter the medium.
After all, there is creativity in business, creativity in art, creativity in education. But since you don’t really know what your child will end up doing, I recommend you shower everything done well with compliments. This doesn’t mean that you lie – if a child has not put in good work, then say so. You must be honest and understanding within the framework of your child’s situation. Notice that Edison was labeled mentally-imbalanced in school (that’s what addled meant back then), but his mother homeschooled him, encouraged him, and stood by him all the way. One could even say that Mrs. Edison is the reason there are lights shining in your home right now.
2) Give time to be creative and protect it. I heard someone say that boredom is the root of all creativity. I’m not sure this is true, but I do know that constant distraction is the death of the creative spirit. So-called busywork is a disaster for the creative person, as is lots of constant mental stimulation. I know from personal experience – distraction is not creative.
Ensure your children have long stretches of time when they really don’t have to do anything in particular. Protect it by forbidding all electronic media (video games, ipads, movies, tv, etc.) For younger children (mid-elementary and below), this should be absolute. For older kids, they might need to use a computer to create a movie, write a story, or program code. But mindless entertainment is pure distraction and must be avoided at all costs.
The fact is, most of us who pursue lives of creativity actually look for ways not to be creative. I know this sounds odd, but creativity takes brain energy and time, and if we can do this thing that “needs to be done” or that thing “that must happen now” then we don’t have to engage creatively with life.
There are many adults who turned off their freedom to be creative so long ago that they have no idea how to turn it back on. Those of us who do use it regularly know that if we didn’t learn to use our time creatively as a child, it wouldn’t be nearly as easy as it now is (so long as we don’t distract ourselves) to turn it back on.
Do not feel like you need to solve boredom.
Recommend things for them to do (they likely won’t do them), then watch what happens – 9 times out of 10 their boredom will push them into doing something new and different and creative. If you’re like 99.9% of the homes out there, you have plenty of colors, paper, glue, blocks, toys, etc. etc. for hours of endless creative playing.
Just make sure that you protect them from the world of electronica! It is a seductive, smothering demon to true creativity. Watch teachers, music teachers, inventors, filmmakers, dancers, or whomever else is a creative expert in what your child likes to do. When a child sees an adult doing professionally (or as a hobby) what he has an interest in, this can be remarkably encouraging. Even if that’s not what that child ends up doing, it is a validation that there are people pursuing what they love.
3) Provide creative mentors. This can be hard, but if you can find the right person, it’s certainly worth it. A younger child may just enjoy the meeting; an older child might be at the age to intern or spend some individual time with that person learning their craft.
There is a good reason why the apprentice-based educational system was so successful for so long – it works extremely well. The problem for the modern world, however, is that it was highly individualized and could not be controlled by the state. A large classroom model was much better at ensuring children thought in a certain way because of group-think; it was also quite effective at stamping out the individual creativity that makes people march to the beat of the different drummer. Is it any surprise Edison’s teacher felt he didn’t fit in?
Homeschooling is an important educational approach for children.
Homeschooling offers plenty of opportunity to be with your child to encourage him, it gives you the ability to control her time in order to protect her from squandering it; and it gives you the freedom to find mentors and guides as needed. Perhaps you are even that guide – as Mozart’s sister wrote about her brother:
In the fourth year of his age his father, for a game as it were, began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier…. He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time…. At the age of five, he was already composing little pieces, which he played to his father who wrote them down.
Never forget that you are one of the most important influences on your children’s creativity. It doesn’t require you to be Mozart’s father; but it does require you to watch, listen, compliment and support.