Young children don't have the answer to everything in life... yet, that makes toddlers particularly creative. Being creative can be a very useful skill for the future and can be a lot of fun!
Are you looking to encourage your toddlers creativity but you don't know how? Here are 5 tips to encourage the creativity without being pushy.
1. Give your toddler a dedicated space.
Giving your toddler a little corner to develop their creative skills that they know is just for them can make all the difference for kids. Many times we create these spaces in separate rooms thinking the kids will play in one place and we can get things done in another, and though sometimes that does work for short periods of time, often what ends up happening is they bring their stuff and camp out exactly where we don't want them to be. If we anticipate this need for our young kids to be near us and intentionally crate a space near where we usually are for them to create, they will be near us and can play side by side with their open-ended toys and we take care of other things, all while still showing them that they are valued and that we also want them near us.
2. Keep it fun!
It is really easy to have a mental list going of all the things we want our kids to learn and to make sure they do not fall "behind" in learning milestones. It is also easy to turn every time we join them in play to be a "teachable moment" where we unintentionally suck the fun out of their creative time. Remember, we don't have to give explicit instruction for them to learn...in fact...they learn more when we do not. The most important thing for kids to develop in the younger years is a LOVE of creating, open-ended play, learning, and exploring. In order for them to love it...it has to be fun. That doesn't mean we entertain, helicopter parent to make sure they are having "fun" 100 percent of the time, or even that we solve all their problems for them.
What it does mean is that we get out of the way so that their ideas, not ours, can take off and that we are holding our expectations loosely enough that there is space for theirs. Then next time your child is playing and you see the perfect opportunity to jump in and teach....why not instead hold back and watch instead? After they are done playing, a few thoughtful open-ended questions can go much further than a lecture where we tell them exactly what to think. Children have amazing minds and if give them time to think and come up with their own questions they will teach us even more than we teach them.
3. Help your toddler during the process
While we want to keep play fun, there are some things that, if not addressed, can truly inhibit our kids from making progress and successfully opening up that door to possibility.
Getting Started- Sometimes getting started is the hardest part. Sit down WITH your child and just start playing. Don't tell them what you are doing or explain about how they should play...just start playing and watch them come to you and join in. If they take a risk and try something...go with that and add a bit more or ask a thoughtful question. Once they start to get engrossed in the play and seem like they have an idea going...quietly step away and let them drive solo.
Getting Stuck- One of the hardest things during play is often when kids have an idea that they immediately want to see success with and their are road block or things that don't go according to play. If you child is just getting started with open-ended play this will take a bit more coaching and you may need to get involved the first few times but just like building the muscles of creativity kids need to build the muscles of problem-solving. The next time your kid gets stuck with a creative idea...join them and model what a fun challenge experimenting with different solutions can be and how you often end up with something even better than if your plan had gone smoothly. It's also a great idea for your kids to see your problem-solving process in everyday life, and taking the time to slow down and explain and have them join in helping YOU solve a problem you have in a fun way. Practicing this skill when it's not up to them can not only create a bond with you in that moment, but stick with them the next time THEY need to solve a problem.
4. Don't go overboard
As much as coaching is important, knowing what are appropriate expectations for kids at different ages is key. Something we might think is easy or should be quick to learn might actually need to be broken into multiple steps or might even be beyond the developmental stage our kids are in. If you notice that even with coaching something seems too difficult for your child, do a quick google search to educate yourself about that particular skill to make sure it's not asking too much. Much like learning to read where ideally kids are reading books with mostly words they know and few they don't, play should be similar in that we should guide them to things we know that can be mostly successful at with a few new skills that can be achieved with effort. If they are all new skills and there is nothing familiar they can have quick success with, it will be easy to get to discouraged and give up.
5. Think long-term
We have heard the studies about how exposing kids to certain foods may take many tries before they start to like that particular food...sometimes it's as many as 20! When helping kids to develop the muscles to be creative, think long term. Sometimes it's easy to feel that our kids are not making much progress as we see them get frustrated, ignore toys we wish they would play with more, or don't come up with the complex play set-ups we had in mind when we purchased certain items. Over time, all the little progress they make will add up, and in the meantime, just having the atmosphere in which they play be one of positivity, encouragement, and low pressure risk-taking in can set the scene for more complex play later on. They memories (think emotions) they are connecting to all the little moments in play now will keep them coming back again and again as they make little progress here and there. All the little encouraging sayings and phrases we use with them will become their inner voice, and keeping it fun, light, and positive now will make creative spaces a second home for them throughout their life. At this point it is not so much the progress they are making, but the emotional connections they are making to what it feels like to create and the responses they get while they are doing it. Little steps taken each day add up to a long way over the course of a lifetime! Keep at it and the progress will come in their own unique way and time.
Enjoy the journey!