The great artist Pablo Picasso always wanted to be able to paint like a child. He understood that children are the most original, unique, free-spirited members of our great family. Before they are taught anything, children see the world with fresh eyes. Their responses are honest and imaginative.
Recently, I took a trip to an apple orchard with a group of 3 year olds. We celebrated afterward by dancing, making music, and recounting the adventure in story. We grew our bodies into trees, turned our arms into branches, and swayed as the wind blew our leaves. We sprouted apples and picked the fruit off our own limbs. I asked, "What color are your apples?" Without hesitation, the children called out, "My apple is pink!" "Mine is purple!" "Blue!" We had a rainbow of apples! There was no inhibition, no one saying, "This is silly!" or "That's not right!"
Tap Into the Creative Spirit
We humans learn in a variety of ways. All of them have value. Some, however, are more valued than others. Creative expression could use more acknowledgement — a lot more. It's how children make meaning of the world, whether it's through song, music, movement, play, painting, story, or poetry. In fact, many children are already singing, dancing, storytelling, and choreographing, before they start school. Why is that? Because we all come into this world with the need to create. It's in our genes, and the arts are the basic way we express that need.
Our current fixation with standardized testing does a great disservice to our children. Putting labels on our children, ranking them on percentage charts, turns them into soulless commodities. They're far more complex. They learn in their own ways, at their own speeds.
Creativity is the noble, delicious antidote for this stifling approach. It connects, clarifies, and enriches. But creativity is not a strategy or a technique. It's not scheduled for Wednesdays after dinner if homework is finished. It's a way of being and thinking, teaching and parenting.
Our greatest role in protecting the creative spirit within our children is to be open to their originality and questions, join in with their playful thinking, and appreciate their singing, building, and painting. To do that, we need to embody the qualities of the creative spirit that come naturally to our children — enthusiasm, excitement, spontaneity, playfulness, and imagination. But in the midst of our fragmented lives, how do we celebrate-and exercise — our creative spirit? My four "little nudges" can help (see below). Try them with your child. They'll help you get into the moment alongside her.
Creativity is our birthright. The qualities we associate with creativity are gifts we all receive as we begin our amazing life journeys. Feel free to value it, honor it, and worship it.
Four Little Nudges
These simple tips can help stimulate the creative spirit in you and your child.
- Ask, What else? The minute you hear, or say, the words "what else?" your mind begins churning and whirling. What else can you add to a party, a trip, a painting, a song? The words help us expand our horizons and remind us that there is always more to discover, to learn, to ask, to wonder about. When your child comes to you with the words, "I'm done!" spark his creative juices with "What else can you think of?"
- Ask, What if? These are the key words of imagination. What if we changed the colors? What if we found buried treasure? What if we could understand the language of animals? The words open a world of possibilities. Listen to young children play, and you'll hear what if in their imaginative games. Far too soon, this playful invitation often shrivels up in the wake of super-structured, highly programmed activities.
- Show the idea! Sometimes, pictures speak louder than words. So demonstrate an idea in pictures, in music, in dance, sculpture, graphs, through an interview, using puppets — in any way that communicates. Showing ideas gives validity to different ways of learning and comprehending. Plus, it's fun and satisfying to experiment with different ways to convey ideas.
- Fake it! This nudge is for you if your child expects you to always have the right answer. Don't know how to do something perfectly? Take a stab at it! Make believe you can do it. Faking it gives you courage. It moves you beyond "I can't" or "I won't." It also invites participation and encourages involvement by granting permission to try something new or different. As role models for our children, we must be brave.