How to Encourage Creative Thinking in Children Using Visual Art Supplies

I have a firm belief that everyone is born with creative abilities. My experience is that many people who are not aware of their creative abilities do not understand what creativity is. Unfortunately many people were not encouraged to develop their creative abilities when they were children. This is one way to encourage creative thinking in your child.
Recognizing, developing and using our creative abilities is vital. Being able to stretch our thinking to include creative solutions to our problems, creates new brain cells, increases our choices and enhances our coping skills. The best time to learn creative thinking is during our childhood while our brains are growing. Any adult who is involved with children (parents, teachers, Scout leaders) can help children raise their creativity skills.
Coloring books and “cookie-cutter” art (the type of art in which every child makes the same item) discourage creativity. Although coloring books have a time and purpose, when a child is coloring in someone else’s creation they are not learning how to create something themselves. There is also a purpose for “cookie cutter” art, however, when doing this the child is learning to follow directions from someone else. Genuine creativity is self directed.
The most important step is to understand the developmental stages of drawing. Unnecessary criticism from adults diminishes a child’s ability to grow creatively. When adults respond negatively to children they will be less likely to repeat the activity. Children begin to enjoy drawing by the time they are old enough to hold a marker and will scribble with the marker. Markers are easier for toddlers to use than crayons and safer than pencils. Adult supervision is necessary to make sure the child draws on paper and does not put the marker in their mouth. A gentle reminder that markers are used on paper will generally suffice. If a child cannot comply with this, put the markers away and try again later. Toddlers enjoy learning to control the marker and are beginning to learn about creativity as they create marks on paper. Praising children for their work (“Look at what you can do!”) and putting the work on display will encourage them to continue their efforts.
Gradually, around three to four years of age children realize that lines and shapes actually stand for something and they begin to try to make deliberate representations. It is important to encourage children to continue to explore what they can do with markers and never criticize or change their drawing. Around the age of four children begin to make pictures. Adults can encourage this by recognizing the growth the child has made and expressing their appreciation of it. During this time children will enter a stage called “Named Scribbling” in which they will look at something they have drawn, see a shape that looks like “a bird” or “a frog” and name the scribble as such. Again it is vital to appreciate this creative ability in the child in order to encourage creative growth.
From the age of 9 to about 12 years old children begin to try to make their drawings more realistic. It becomes important to them to try to make their drawings more proportional, to fill the drawing with details, make colors more realistic and learn how to overlap. At this stage children begin to feel frustrated and may ask adults for more help. Those children who have not received adult encouragement may stop drawing. If children do seem interested in being able to draw this is a good time for them to receive some drawing instruction. Drawing is a learned skill.
Clay is another important tool for encouraging creative growth. Adult supervision is vital in order to prevent ingestion and, again, gentle reminders that clay is for making things rather than eating, usually suffice. Allowing the child to make what ever they want to with the clay will allow them to follow and grow in their own creative process. The process with clay is similar to that of drawing and often children will make something, look at it and then decide what it is. Around the age of nine to 12 it is normal for boys to make phallic symbols and is important for adults to be able to accept this with little or no comment.
Paint is another medium that encourages creative expression. School age children will get a great deal of pleasure out of mixing the colors and learn a great deal as they do. Children enjoy watching the colors swirl together and gradually blend. When a child mixes all the colors together and finds that they now have army green or brown they have learned something about color mixing. If they are able to mix with some restraint, with the help of an adult, they will begin to learn color theory. Paint is much more difficult to control than markers or clay. Stiff brushes help children control the paint better.
Problems invariably come up when anyone is trying to create something. Problems are opportunities for creative thinking. It is always best to allow the child to try to solve the problem themselves and praise them when they do so, pointing out how creative they have been. When they ask for help an adult can encourage them by reminding them of other times when they have solved problem’s. The adult can also ask the child questions to help the child think of solutions. What is most important is that the adult facilitate the child’s creative thinking process, rather than simply solving the problem for the child. Adults can make some suggestions and ask the child for more ideas. Brainstorming for ideas and solutions with children invariably raises their ability to think creatively. Ask children for “silly” ideas. Albert Einstein once said “If at first the idea is not absurd then there is no hope for it”.

Finally, enjoy doing these activities with your children! It is true that we all learn best when we are relaxed and we are more relaxed when we are enjoying an activity. It follows then that adults need to be able to enjoy doing these activities with their children. Watching children enjoy their creative abilities can be extremely pleasant for adults, as well as educational. Often, adults will find that they have learned a great deal about being creative by watching their children.

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