Thursday, 5 May 2016

How to Support Children’s Creativity

By encouraging children’s curiosity, their creative problem solving, and self-expression, we actually teach them how to be creative. It is our duty as early years teachers or parents to instill a lifelong habit of creative thinking, but sometimes we forget how easy and important it is to do that. Here are some tips that might help:

Stop doing things for your kids!
One problem I’ve encountered while teaching, no matter where, no matter what age of the kids, was that some parents tend to help their children in everything they do, even when they don’t actually need help. A good way to help children develop their creativity is by not telling what the right way to do things is or do things for them, but rather encourage them to try on their own.

Nowadays, parents are stressed about their busy lives – finding balance between work life and personal life isn’t easy. Sometimes because of this constant rush, they do things for their kids; things that their children are capable of doing, such as getting dressed, cleaning up their toys, brushing their teeth, feeding them, etc. The important thing is finding time for these little things, because it will pay off. Children will then learn to be independent, and in a short period of time the time that was “wasted” in the morning will be free time, or time you can enjoy doing something fun with your children.

Let kids figure out the answers to their own questions
By trying to show children how to discover answers to certain questions on their own, we stimulate their creativity. Of course, sometimes it’s just easier to answer a certain question that a child has, because it doesn’t take as long. Show them you are listening to what they are asking – by engaging in their conversation.

But if it’s time you’re worried about, you can just show children that their questions are interesting and worth considering.

“Every time we put off dealing with a child’s question, we make it less likely that he will continue to ask questions” (Abigail Flesch Connors, 2010). We should encourage kids to ask questions, to talk about what’s on their mind, and help them find the tools to answer their own questions. Each kid has a different way of dealing with challenges and solving problems, so our task is to help them find the effective strategies to do that.

Try to see what’s in the child’s mind and observe what she is doing. For example, a child comes up to me and asks “Do kites fly?”, I could reply “Hmm…that’s an interesting question. Have you seen kites in the air?”. Then the child might start to think about instances when she saw a kite. From there, you can start a conversation about the weather that day and whether the wind helped the kite fly. Try to be an active listener, rather than just answer their question straight away or saying “Yes/No” as an easy way to continue your own thing.

Create a Nurturing Climate
We should try to contribute to creating a nurturing climate where children can express their creativity and ideas, without being judged. Kids need to feel comfortable, so that they start sharing their ideas and participate in activities. Sometimes songs and drama can create a fun and relaxed atmosphere. Even some silliness helps.

Has it ever happened to you to sing a song with your group, and suddenly one kid starts to behave silly? For example, instead of hopping/clapping his hands, he starts running through the room? If you stop and talk about what that child is doing, others might find it interesting and join her. Instead, after singing the part about hopping/clapping hands, you can ask the children what else you could do. Then, you could say something like “What do you think about running - Wouldn’t that be fun?” Try to join the fun and accept silly ideas. If you get upset and stop the activity to talk about that silly gesture, the kids will stop having fun. When the fun stops, the learning process stops.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t work all the time, but it’s worth giving it a try and having patience.

Create a learning environment that encourages creative play
Finding time in your daily schedule for dramatic play, reading, puppets’ shows, or creative activities is very important. You can even make a creation station, where children are provided with instruments, tools, blocks, tape, cardboard boxes, anything that they could use to create something original.

Sometimes as adults it’s difficult to accept the mess that’s created when children play, but creativity is born in such an environment. Expose the children to different forms of art: music, painting, literature, etc.

Try to notice creative thinking
Sometimes it’s hard to pay attention to all of the children’s questions and actions, especially if you have a large group/family. But it’s important to find the patience to notice when they a child tries to do something creative and encourage that. For example, we were walking to the park one day and I was asking the kids what songs they would like to sing. We often sing while we walk. We started singing a well-known song, “Do you like broccoli ice cream”, when one of the children asked me if I like beans (a word that wasn’t in the original song). We continued by creating our own lyrics, with all sorts of weird food combinations. From that, he started changing all lyrics, but kept the tune, and made his own song.

All children are creative, if they have a supportive environment, in which they are not ridiculed for their original ideas. All kids will open up and share their ideas if they feel that they are respected and listened to.

Wait for children to say what they want, without interrupting their thoughts
I have to admit that sometimes I’m in a hurry to continue an activity. But having a conversation with the kids might be more educative than talking about the weather. During Monday’s morning circle, we usually talk about what the kids did during the weekend. Of course, most kids want to talk (at length) about that and sometimes it takes so long, that we don’t get to talk about other issues (the theme of the week, the season, weather, day of the week, etc.). But they might discover things that they have in common, activities which they have done during the weekend and would be fun to do again, with the whole group, or who knows? You never know where the conversation will take you.

Set a good example
By respecting other people’s opinion, their thoughts, giving them time to express their ideas, and not interrupting, you will set a good example for your kids. “Give them opportunities to see you respond to other children’s ideas with a smile, a kind “thank you,” and gentle, positive observations” (Abigail Fischer Connors, 2010)

Most people don’t act naturally when they know they are being observed. I know I feel anxious every time someone comes to observe one of my lessons. Even though I know that what I’m doing is fun, educative, organized…it’s still uncomfortable. That happens with children, as well. They need some time to play freely, without interruptions and instructions from an adult.

Let them enjoy themselves and intervene only if needed. Even the so-called shy kids might surprise you – they might take a different role in the game, propose rules, give instructions to the others. Sometimes we just need to give them some space, to take a step back and let the kids do their thing – watch them reveal their true personality, express their feelings, and come up with original ideas.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you wanted to make a science experiment with the kids, but it totally failed? Or when you wanted to make playdough with your own, original recipe, but it all went wrong? I sure had a lot of those. We have to teach the kids that the result isn’t as important as the process. We learn from our failed attempts, and it’s important for kids to know that, too. Talking about the fact that we had fun while doing the experiment will help them cope with their own failures. They need to know that adults experience that too.

I’ve seen many parents who compare their kids’ drawings to those of other kids. If the children have fun while drawing, enjoy doing that, they will do that more and more often, and develop their fine motor skills. It’s all about encouraging them and offering them our support.

Tackle problems from different angles
Showing kids that you don’t know the answer to a problem isn’t bad, but giving up easily is. Set a good example by trying to solve problems, showing interest in pursuing different strategies when encountering a problem. Try to show them how you think about the problem, how you reach a certain conclusion and the fact that you might also be confused at first, but then try to come up with a solution yourself. Explaining the process and verbalizing your thoughts will set an example for the kids.

Motivation Comes from Within When I first started teaching, I was using a lot of positive reinforcement charts. After a while, I realised that they don’t really work. Of course, I saw improvements in the children’s behaviour, but that was only because they got stickers at the end of the day. Their motivation to change a certain behaviour has to come from within. They get to the age when they are capable of regulating their behaviour and understanding why certain things they did were wrong. You just need patience to explain why, set good examples, find the root of the behaviour, and try to overcome difficulties together. Moral support is more important than rewards. Kids who have a good connection with the teacher and their peers will be more confident in expressing their ideas.

“Praise is a form of evaluation, and even positive evaluation is an external motivation. True motivation, for creative thinking or anything else, is internal – it comes from a mind filled with questions and a heart filled with feelings.” (Kohn, 2012)

Teach them how to listen
Being creative is not only about telling others your ideas, it’s about solving puzzles with others, coming up with different solutions, listening to others’ points of view and interacting with others. Kids should also learn how to listen to others, to encourage others to express their ideas and not ridicule them.

There are only a couple of ideas. But the main idea of this blog post it to continue encouraging your children when they are creative – be there for them, listen, respect their ideas, and don’t stress about the mess! :)

PS: You can download the mini-posters here.

Thanks to Harper Finch for the cute backgrounds. :)

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