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Are You Letting Your Child Be Creative?

Or just teaching them to follow directions?

My kid gets creative with stickers. Photo Credit: Author.

I’m in a room full of grown-ups, and we’re having craft time. At my table, we have a hodge-podge of materials: empty margarine tubs, scraps of paper and fabric, rubber bands, toilet paper tubes, spools of yarn, scissors, markers. We’ve been instructed to use whatever we want to make whatever we want.

I’m making a purse out of fabric scraps, yarn, and holes I poked with scissors. Someone else is making a guitar out of rubber bands, cardboard and a margarine tub. A see a pair of pretend binoculars fashioned from toilet paper tubes.

And then there’s the other craft table. They’ve been given a prototype of a construction paper frog, and they are meticulously cutting and gluing to make identical frogs.

We come together afterwards to show off what we made and talk about what we’ve learned.

My table is gushing about the fun things we’ve created, how at first we weren’t sure what we were supposed to do, but then something sparked our creativity.

The frog table: not so much.

This exercise was at my training to become a Kaleidoscope Play & Learn facilitator, and it clarified for me that giving kids cookie-cutter art assignments usually doesn’t have any benefit, outside of being a practice in following directions (though more often, the parents just end up frustratedly doing the work for the kids).

I lead a weekly KPL playgroup at my local library for kiddos 0–5 (and their families/caregivers).

There is some structure to it: after an hour of free play in a room full of different kinds of toys and activities, we all come together for snacks, books, and songs, which fit a weekly theme.

And there are goals, like empowering the family and caregivers, since the time they spend with their kids will have the greatest impact, way more than I personally can in my brief time with them.

What I love about the KPL model is how open-ended it is.

I set the room up with stations: a craft table, cars and figurines on a mat printed like a town, big blocks, a felt board with tons of characters, baby dolls and scarves, a pillow book nook, magnet blocks, a tunnel and slide, balls, puppets, dress-up, pretend fruits and veggies.

My 4-year-old comes early each week to help me set up, and she usually creates something she’s really proud of, like a block castle, and then she’ll say, “I don’t want anyone to mess it up.”

The ease of camera phones definitely helps here: She’s soothed by, “We’ll just take a picture, so we can see it later if someone changes it.”

But another thing I tell her is,

“Everybody plays with toys differently, and that’s so awesome.”

So, the craft training has definitely informed the way I set up the weekly craft table, but my commitment to flexibility goes much further than that.

I love when kids take something from one station and use it in another: putting the cars down the slide, making magnet-block homes for the toy animals, building an obstacle course out of pillows.

When I think about everything humans have invented, written, painted — everything we’ve created — when I think about how none of those things existed until someone made them, I feel so inspired.

We all have that creativity in us. For our children, it’s even easier to grasp. That’s if we can step back and check ourselves when we’re instructing them about the right way to draw something, the right way to play with something.

We were taught (are still being taught) that there is one right way to do things. If we’re not careful, we pass that inflexibility on to our kids.

Yes, our knowledge and life experience is invaluable to our kids, to keep them safe, to use the benefits of our own trial and error, and education, to pass on what we know. But sometimes we get stuck in our grooves.

So let your kids pick out their own outfits. Let them teach you how to play. And let them color outside both the literal lines and the metaphorical ones.

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