How to raise a creative kid

Even if you’re not!

Andrea Warner 0

You may be a computer whiz, a company president or a gregarious soccer coach. So why do you feel like you’re all thumbs when it comes to doodling with your five-year-old daughter?

Breathe easy, left brainers. Attitude is everything when it comes to creativity. At work, there’s plenty of pressure to make things picture-perfect on the first try. But when you’re exploring the arts with your kids, the fun is in the freedom to colour outside the lines. And remember: Kids thrive when they get to play teacher. So let down your guard when you don’t know what to do and let your little one take the lead.

To get you and your kids clicking creatively, try these easy-as-pie ideas.

Just dance

Got two left feet? Relax and tune in to the tunes. “It’s all about the movement,” says Kay Huang-Barnes, a creative movement instructor at Vancouver’s Arts Umbrella, “so turn on some music and walk, crawl, skip or run to the beat.”

• Give in to your animal instincts and pretend you’re different creatures in the jungle or on a farm. Do the silliest move you can think of, and then dare your child to top you.

• Work together to make up your own dances to favourite songs, or mimic the moves from old movies. Little ones will find inspiration in plenty of old Disney films, while preteens might enjoy 1980s movies like Flashdance and Footloose.

• Explore different dance styles and music. Surf the Internet to find instructional dance videos, e-books and guides that cover everything from sock hop classics to ballet basics. YouTube is a great resource to see real people breaking down the moves.

• If inhibitions are hampering the hoofing, practise alone before unveiling your footwork in front of an audience. Turn on music while you’re cleaning or blast a childhood favourite while you’re running errands in the car.
The write stuff

When “Once upon a time” won’t quite do, here are a couple of easy prompts to get younger children started on a story.

Prompt 1: Outside the window, the moon looked smaller than the nail on my pinky finger. I could hear the wind blowing against the side of my house. Then suddenly a THUD!

Prompt 2: From far away, he looked almost exactly like the other rabbits: two long ears, two pink eyes, one scrunched-up nose. But up close, something was very different. Something gleaming white was sticking out of his mouth.

• Have a child who can’t quite write yet? Invite her to tell you a story while you write down her words. Ask follow-up questions: “What does the forest look and smell like? Who lives in the forest? When is the story taking place?”

• For older kids, poetry might be the way to expand on their writing skills while expressing themselves differently. Together, you can choose five words randomly from the dictionary. Use those five words to craft a poem at least 10 lines long. Write one poem that rhymes and one that doesn’t.

So dramatic

Got a mini Meryl Streep on your hands? Stage a play together, suggests Jennifer Martin, artistic director of the Canadian Children’s Theatre Company.

• Martin recommends acting out favourite books to encourage a child who’s been bitten by the acting bug. Parents can take part by volunteering to act in the play, coming up with funny or realistic voices, and brainstorming on the places and settings.

• Keep a dress-up box with clothes and accessories collected from around the house, hand-me-downs from other family members or old Halloween costumes. A family talent show is a terrific standby for Sunday evenings.

• Improvisation is a great way to spark your creativity. Dress up and decide how you want the play to work. Do you want to improvise everything or would you like to agree on a setting, a time or the relationship between your characters?

• Write your own play. Work with your child to decide what kind of story to tell and how many characters will be in the play, and take turns writing the dialogue and the stage directions.

A show of hands

Kids love a great puppet show, and making puppets of different sizes and shapes can provide tons of entertainment well before the curtain rises.

• Finger puppets, sock puppets and hand puppets can be made with old gloves or socks, construction or recycled wrapping paper, markers, paints, pipe cleaners, string, glitter and plenty of glue. Spend time developing characters and building up the puppets’ personalities with decorations and details, such as freckles, glasses, funny ears or crazy hair.

• Transform a cardboard box into a little stage and help your child come up with stories.

Building blocks of life

• If your youngster is interested in building, sculpture and structures, trade the pens and paper for Lego and other building blocks. But don’t limit your child to conventional materials: Try using rocks, seashells, Popsicle sticks or playing cards.

• Use magazine cut-outs or glue pictures onto cardboard boxes and let your child craft sculptures of his own making. It’s also surprisingly easy to make your own modelling clay — kinderinfo.com has a great recipe, but you can google “homemade modelling clay” to find one that works for you.

Keep the beat!

It’s pretty simple advice, but encouraging your child to sing along to favourite songs might be just the nudge he needs to make music his friend. Even if your voice isn’t pitch perfect, shake off your self-consciousness as much as possible by singing along to some of your old faves or some simple kid-friendly classics like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

• Is reality TV more your style? Create your own “living room idol” with karaoke CDs or video games like SingStar. Singing along to CDs can become a full concert experience if you and your young star improvise costumes and instruments (an overturned pot makes a great drum, and a tennis racket stands in nicely for a guitar).

• Francis Balodis, founder and international director of Music for Young Children in Kanata, Ont., urges parents to make learning an instrument more exciting than just sitting down at a piano to practise. Turn note naming into a game, and keep a selection of rhythm instruments around to help keep the beat while listening to music. Making rhythm instruments is as easy as pouring uncooked rice into an empty tin can or plastic container.

Just picture it

• Let your child go wild with a camera! If you’re dealing with a preschooler, consider handing over a disposable camera rather than your family’s digital. Then have him photograph his world.

• Do a photography scavenger hunt: Take a picture of what love looks like, your favourite animal, a place you think would be cool to live, something that makes you smile, something that scares you. Then compare images and talk about your pictures. You may even want to make prints and frame your faves.

• Ask your little one to take pictures of family and friends, letting her play with close-ups and faraway shots, and then go through and choose your favourites together.

• Scrapbooking sometimes gets a bad rap, but it’s a great opportunity to go through old family photos with your child and think of interesting ways to group them. Have your child write little stories to accompany different memories from family vacations.

Colouring outside the lines

• The pros all agree: Keep a craft box stocked with paper, crayons, fingerpaints and pencils. Collect scraps of paper, magazines or gift wrap and bows from birthdays to add variety to your craft box.

• Don’t confine yourself to the kitchen table. Head outside with a pad of paper and some markers or paints, and see where your kid’s creativity takes him. Or look at different types of artwork and styles — online, at the library or the museum. Don’t forget to bring your own supplies should creativity strike!

A final thought: Christian Monks, who uses art therapy in his job as a clinical counsellor at Vancouver’s Cameray Child and Family Services, notes that some parents expect a finished product that looks “perfect.” He advises turning those expectations upside down. “Maybe to get things started, a parent and child agree to make a messy picture,” Monks says. “Creativity is not about the end, but finding delight in the process.”

The frustration station

Mini-meltdowns can derail the creative process, so if your little one starts getting frustrated because her picture isn’t turning out the way she wanted, or he can’t master the moonwalk, here are a few tips to defuse, soothe and move on:

• Remind your child that practice is the way to improve; just as with skills like catching or throwing, you need to keep drawing or dancing to get better.

• Make sure you join in and show your child your own effort, making it clear that there are plenty of different ways to make something special and that everyone has something unique to offer.

• Take a break, walk away for a little while, and then slowly make your way back to your art project.

Ideas online

kinderart.com Provides free exercises and tips for little ones.
beaverbrookartgallery.org Check out the Kids Zone games, entertainment and arts-related activities for family fun.
kidica.com Crafts, music and arts activities for all ages.

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