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Five Ways to Encourage Creative Play
What are the skills you will likely see emerging in your preschooler before they start school? There are several, including social and emotional development; fine and gross motor skills; critical thinking; language and vocabulary; and emerging reading, writing, and math skills. While those skills should and will develop naturally through play and conversation, there is a critical skill that is often overlooked as parents observe and play with their children: creative play and thinking.
It is easy to write off creative and imaginative play as “just something that kids do.” In reality, creative thinking is the subject of Harvard courses, business articles and books. It’s a highly sought after skill that you can foster in childhood. All it takes is a little bit of intentionality.
Put simply, creative thinking is “thinking about new things or thinking in new ways.” It’s up to parents to nurture their child’s creative thinking rather than stifling it. Research shows that creative thinking in children is on the decline. Ursula K. Le Guin sums it up beautifully with the words, “The creative adult is the child who has survived.”
How can you make sure your child’s creative thinking survives and even thrives?
Incorporate these five practices to encourage creative thinking in your preschooler
1.Give creativity a home
Make a “creativity zone” for imaginative and creative play. The space could be as simple as an art table and a few storage containers in the corner of the kitchen or as elaborate as a whole room dedicated to art. Wherever you decide to place the creativity zone, make sure that you continue to supervise your young child as they create art. This helps you play an active role in their development as a creative thinker and avoids accidents related to art supplies.
2. Make creativity accessible
Once you’ve designated a space for creative play, it’s time to fill that space with supplies. You likely already know what types of arts and crafts your child finds most fun. Preschoolers can engage in creative thinking with very few supplies. Start with crayons, washable markers, colored pencils, paper, safety scissors, non-toxic glue, and modeling clay. Then observe your child to see if any additional supplies are necessary. Paper plates, tissue paper, and pipe cleaners are all possible additions.
Develop a simple organizational system for the art space. Your preschooler will not use the supplies if they do not know where to find them! Take a few moments to review the system with your child. Having clearly labeled storage also allows your child to take responsibility for keeping their space tidy.
3. Bring creative play on the road
Creative thinking should not be limited to the creativity zone. Encourage your child to be imaginative when you are outside of the house, whether they are playing outside, waiting at the dentist, riding in the car, or at a restaurant. Consider buying or making a portable art kit for those moments. You can also stimulate creative thinking through creative questioning. Ask open-ended questions, and you will be treated to surprising and challenging conversations with your preschooler. Your little one has so much to share. All you need to do is ask!
4. Build creative confidence
At its core, creative thinking is about thinking differently, and that can be difficult for a child. Be intentional about encouraging your child to approach creative play in new ways. Ask what if questions to help your preschooler change their perspective such as, “What if you drew this with your eyes closed? What would happen if you colored with both crayons and colored pencils?” Sometimes your child might feel overwhelmed and ask you to complete the project for them. Remind your preschooler that they have a special style and that you would rather be surprised by the finished product. Finally, give verbal praise for your child’s art, and display it prominently in your home. Your child will feel supported in their creative journey.
5. Provide opportunities for creative play
Schedule a recurring time for the whole family to be creative and imaginative together. Provide structured activities like a rousing game of charades, a family discussion using creative questioning, or an art project. These family art gatherings are a perfect time to make presents for a loved one or to create decorations for an upcoming holiday. Your family art time could also start with a book, continue with a conversation, and end with a corresponding art project. There are several online resources that share art projects for small children. Here are a few projects to get you started:
- Pasta art sculptures
- Bubble wrap stomp paintings
- Yarn painting
- Nature prints with clay
- Galaxy slime
- 30+ activities based on books
With these ideas and activities, developing your child’s creative play and thinking skills has never been easier. We shared our favorite tips. Now we want to hear yours! What are your go-to activities for encouraging creative thought? Share your most-loved practices in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Deposit Photos, kids painting eggs, astronaut
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