Creative kids: 5 ways to spark their imaginations
By Diane Peters

Do you want to raise a creative child? One who can come up with amazing ideas, amuse himself, solve problems and enjoy the magical side of childhood? Thought so. Problem is, today it seems like every toy and every childrenís program focuses on education, not creativity.

But you can still foster the creative spark. Start by tweaking your attitude: while rules and statements such as, "No, no, the sky should be blue," can halt creative thinking, being open and non-judgmental encourages it.

And donít be concerned that focusing on creativity will leave education behind. In fact, creative children are often better learners. "Creativity lets children develop their skills in a way that works for them," says Karen Halpern, a speech pathologist and creator of Thumbprint Adventures, a creative play-based program in Toronto. Her own six-year-old, for instance, can do basic multiplication: she figured it out on her own through playing.

Whether your goal is to raise the next Einstein, or just have a youngster who can tolerate long rainy days, here are five ways to light the creative fire under your child.


1. Free Play

If youíre finding that every night of the week is packed with soccer practice, piano lessons and tutoring, consider opening up some time for free play. "Just relax and let your children play as children," says Halpern. Avoid toys that can only be played one way or come with a long list of instructions. Instead, opt for things such as building blocks, dough, crayons and paper or just kitchen utensils. "Free play is about letting children solve their own problems, as opposed to showing them what the answer is," she says.

For ages 3-5

Unexpected toys. Grab a pile of household thing ó spoons, cotton balls, toilet paper rolls ó and toss them in the middle of the floor. For even more novelty, mix this grab bag with toys that are normally kept in a different room.

Obstacle course. In the yard or at the park, set up an example obstacle course to start. (Maybe swings once on the swing, take five hops, run in a circle, and then make a little sculpture out of nearby leaves.) Then let your child set up his own course that you and others must follow.


For ages 6-9

Act it out. Suggest your child and siblings or friends perform a play or TV show. Give them paper to make tickets, set a time youíll able available to watch, then let them get to rehearsal. (And donít set up a stage: theyíll figure that out themselves.)


For ages 9-11

Create a game. Pull out all the family games and suggest you child create his own, either using all original materials, or pulling ideas and props from existing games. Suggest he write out the rules and agree to play when heís done.


 2. Music

The greatest thing about being creative with music is how much fun it is. "Itís immediate, the response kids have," says Mike Whitla, director of Rainbow Songs, a preschool music program. Encourage your child to sing (and make up their own words or use funny voices), dance and try their hand at various instruments. And remember that the more children learn about music ó how it works, how to play an instrument ó the more theyíll be able to creatively experiment with it.

For ages 3-9

Expose them. World music is structured differently from western music, so playing it for your children opens their minds to musicís endless possibilities.

Get into it. When youíre listening to world music, encourage your child to move to the music. Certain pieces are actually inspired by animals, so suggest your child move or make sounds like the animals they hear. (Remember, thereís no right or wrong way to move or sound like a lion, and what sounds like an elephant to you might be a duck to her.)


For ages 9-11

Invent your own. Set up your children to fashion a guitar from a shoebox or tissue box. Cut an oval hole in the middle of the shoebox lid or the top of the tissue box. Pull a few different thickness of rubber bands across the box and put a pencil under the bands on one side. Decorate it if you like, or just play it.



3. Storytelling

Every child loves books, and every parent loves a child who reads: theyíll do well in school. But books and stores are also a great source of creative fun. When children learn they have the ability to take stories off the page, they feel empowered to let their own amazing ideas take over. Children of almost any age have the ability to compose their own tales; they just need some encouragement from you.

For ages 3-6

Listen and learn. Start by telling your preschooler stories. Anything that comes to mind: a personal story inspired by a book or a tale of your own childhood.

Little tales. As youíre reading books, suggest to your child that she tell you what the turtle did the next day, or what she thinks happens after the books ends.


For ages 6-9

Imagine a story. Give your child a character, object and place and have them create a story. You can also get your child to write their story down or make illustrations afterwards.


For ages 9-11

Play with stories. Your childís bound to have a favorite book or two, so have them take that story off the page. Have them create a costume for their favorite character, host a theme party or just have a dinner with food inspired by the book.


4. Cooking

Combine a very basic recipe, messy ingredients such as dough and sugar and a hands-off attitude and you have a recipe for fun and creativity. "Once you deal with the safety issues, youíve got to give them room," suggests food writer Evelyn Raab, "Allow them the freedom to create things the way they want." While itís best to ensure there will be some success, once you know the end result will be at least edible, let them go to it unfettered.

For ages 3-6

Cinnamon raisin soft pretzels

Chick pea and tomato with pasta soup

Broiled mozzarella and tomato bruschetta


For ages 6-9

Apple bran mini-muffins

Beautiful beef stew

Crazy spaghetti lasagna


For ages 9-11

Chocolate popcorn clusters

Quick one-pot macaroni and cheese

Chunky chicken pasta salad


5. Drawing, coloring and crafts

Arenít doing crafts just creative by nature? Not always. Choose hand-on projects that include a component that your child contributes. Sometimes thatís as basic as choosing the colors they wish (No, the sky does not have to be blue!), or doing a project where you donít have to follow the instructions word-for-word to get a fun result.

For ages 3-6

Trap a leprechaun
Make this craft and then encourage your child to draw a picture or tell a story about what happens with it.


For ages 6-9

Grocery sack ghost
who cares what time of year it is? Encourage your child to turn this ghost into any creature they like, any season.


For ages 9-11

Crayon t-shirt
Set no limits on the design your child makes using broken crayons and a t-shirt.