I’ve never met someone as naturally creative as any four year old child at the playground. Just about any preschooler can take a pile of dirt and turn it into a desert island, mud pie restaurant, and a mountain fit for a king all in the course of an hour.
Sometimes as an adult, it’s fun to see that creativity and ruin it by stomping all over their mud mountain and declaring it a plain ol’ pile of dirt. We’ve got to get them prepared for the real world, right?
No, I don’t really think you do that 🙂 Truth be told, I’m not really a dirt pile smasher either.
Actually, I am completely jealous of the incredible ingenuity produced by little minds less than half of a decade old. But sometimes, I can get so excited about helping my preschooler’s imagination along that I can really cramp her style by accident.
A few weeks ago, we discussed 7 ways to spark your child’s creativity, but what about the other side? The times when we try to help, but fail miserably?
If you want to keep that spark alive, avoid these 5 most common ways we can kill our child’s creativity without even realizing it.
1. Insisting on a Spotless Home
My son once decorated my living room carpet with maple syrup. Although his inspiring abstract art stuck with us a long, long, (long) time, this is not the extreme I need you to allow.
Rules such as no food in the living room are great boundaries, but I’m talking about the less damaging times, such as being afraid to allow blanket forts because it means a few unmade beds.
When your preschooler asks to build a fort, he isn’t just looking to cause chaos to the living room; he’s creating a whole new world-within-a-world.
He’s demonstrating the most basic of engineering skills and making connections between the real world and the one in his imagination. He’s solving problems, getting some exercise, and building confidence when his structure turns out just right.
Plus, in the midst of all that hard work, he’s also likely busy slaying dragons or warding off zombies to protect your humble abode, so really, he deserves a thank you.
A spotless house is nice, sure. But if an imaginative dragon slayer is going to get the job done, he deserves a bit of battle room.
Suzie down the street wants to raise globally minded kids so she signed her children up for a bilingual preschool. Well, your kids will be globally minded-er, so you hired a Chinese language tutor, have them in Irish dance lessons, and cooking each weekend with a French Chef.
They might learn a thing or two, but likely they’ll just be stressed out.
The cool thing about kids is that they’re young. They’ve got years and years ahead of them to learn about the world.
Let’s not try to stuff them with information as if they’re little knowledge starving turkeys.
Think about it: when do your best and most innovative ideas come to you?
In the shower right?
Okay, maybe that’s just me. But I’m willing to bet that it’s not when you’re rushing from activity to activity.
Creativity is born from boredom. Children need time doing nothing just as badly as adults in order to discover new ideas. Cut some things from the schedule and give your preschooler (and yourself) a much needed break.
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3. Bugging Your Kids
I live near the water which means the summer evenings are spent trying to enjoy the outdoors while fighting off the stealthy sneak attacks of tiny buzzing mosquitos.
Once a mosquito has set its sights on you, he insists on poking your exposed parts, then draining your blood leaving an uncomfortable itch behind for you to remember him by.
We adults are like that.
When our children have started a project, we adults can be little poking blood sucking mosquitos, draining all the fun out of things because we can’t leave them alone.
Children are naturally inquisitive and creatively curious. Projects that they start may not turn out the way they (or you) want.
That’s okay. Really.
Sitting by our children making suggestions, giving tips, and generally poking at them just causes unneeded stress. Sometimes even gentle critiques can leave a sensitive child feeling sour and itchy about their work.
Ingenuity requires trial and error. Mistakes are not only natural; they are a benefit to a preschooler’s growth of discovery.
If your kids ask for help, feel free to offer some limited assistance, but don’t take over the project.
Nobody likes a mosquito.
4. Not Helping Your Kids
Okay, so maybe I just told you to leave your poor kids alone. And I meant it, I promise. But there are times when our help is needed in order to put the icing on the creativity cake.
This usually happens when there are ideas floating around in your preschooler’s noggin, but they don’t necessarily have the physical abilities to carry it through yet.
This could apply to an art project where they need you (for safety reasons) to manage the hot-glue gun or pound the nail into the lemonade stand.
Or they may require your help in jotting down their story (the one about the grouchy flamingo that moved to Antarctica to take up ice skating) simply because they don’t yet have the writing skills necessary to fill the page.
Regardless of who put the pen to paper, that freezing flamingo story belongs to your child. Their creative little self is now an author (or beverage entrepreneur or artist etc.).
Before your age reaches the double digits, there’s no harm in asking for mom to help your creations along a little bit.
5. Sticking to the Plan
When I was a kid at home, sick from school, I would spend the time watching a painting show where the host would take a plain blank canvas to a finished work of art in the course of an hour.
Sometimes he started painting mountains, and then realized they should be trees, so he’d somehow turn the mountains into trees. Sometimes a sunny sky just didn’t feel right, so he’d make it stormy instead.
My favorites were the times a splatter of paint made accidental dots on the landscape. He didn’t fret; he just magically painted them into birds.
His paintings always ended up with a few happy little birds.
Creativity is like that. Sometimes we can start on one path, but a splatter or wrinkle in the plan ignites a passionate new idea that must not be ignored.
Your preschooler may start out wanting to create a castle with Legos, but when a few pieces fall off he may suddenly realize that it’s a spaceship. When he’s playing alone, it’s not usually an issue.
It’s sometimes harder to embrace the changes though, when it is something that we have planned.
For example, maybe you planned out a fun day for your preschooler that included reading a story book about insects then taking a nature walk to the park to discover what insects you can find along the way.
On the way there, your little buddy sees a bulldozer and can’t keep his excitement contained long enough to even spare a glance toward the beetle on the sidewalk.
Sometimes having our plans dismissed can be disappointing and maybe even hurt our feelings a bit. But if we can push our feelings aside in order to nourish that spark of imagination, we will be amazed at what our children will come up with.
If you go with it — answering his flurry of questions and taking the time to stop and watch with him — he may surprise you by spending the next few weeks engrossed in nothing but dirt, bulldozers, and creative building play.
You can always search for bugs another day — but if he still isn’t interested, maybe try switching to happy little birds next time.