- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 24, 2002

Parents can have a big impact on nurturing a child's creativity. Here are some ideas for bringing out the natural creative instinct:

•Limit TV or at least use it creatively. Television shows offer a fixed image with a fixed ending, which can interfere with a child's creativity. However, parents can use it as a tool, says Carolyn Callahan, professor of education at the University of Virginia.

"People dump on TV as a creativity killer," she says. "It is not TV; it is the way that we use it. I say tape a TV show, then stop the tape and ask your child to make up an ending. Make TV active, rather than passive."

•Simple toys are best. An umbrella can have 100 uses, says Christine Parson, an Alexandria art teacher. Children can "do anything" with wooden blocks. Dolls can be part of all kinds of drama.

"As long as kids have the tools and the time, they can create," Ms. Parson says. "Video games are very limiting."

•Encourage free drawing rather than coloring books, says Susan Striker, author of the book "Young at Art: Teaching Toddlers Self-Expression, Problem-Solving Skills, and an Appreciation for Art." Coloring books don't offer much chance for self-expression, she says. In fact, staying inside the lines restricts self-expression.

"Children have a very powerful instinct to scribble," Ms. Striker says. "Scribbles contain vertical and horizontal lines and dots, all of the basic components of the alphabet. Staying inside the lines is working against literacy as well as creativity."

She also is not fond of dot-to-dot books and what she calls "anti-art" toys, such as spin-art or paint-by-numbers sets.

"There is no value for a child in completing something someone else created," Ms. Striker says.

•Don't show children "how" to draw something or entertain them by drawing realistic pictures, Ms. Striker says. These lessons will become substitutes for expression and also will frustrate and discourage the child who thinks he or she can't do it the "right" way.

•Avoid competition and rewards when it comes to artwork, writing or other creative pursuits. Creating with eyes on the prize diminishes a child's natural instinct to create, says Teresa Amabile, a Harvard University professor who studies creativity.

•Be a role model. Don't say things like, "I can't draw a straight line." Instead, say things like "I love to create," Ms. Striker says. This teaches children that the process of creativity is more important than the product. If a child sees you taking risks and making things whether drawing, cooking, knitting or building the child will do the same.

•Buy a notebook for your child to use every day. This can be a journal for making up stories, writing ideas and drawing pictures. Even the youngest child can use it to scribble meaningfully.

•Take your child to places that emphasize ideas and creativity. Art museums, science centers, libraries and children's museums all are great places to see other people's creativity. That will inspire children to make their own creations and inventions.

•Give children choices and free time. Some of the best ideas come from daydreaming and imagining.

"Being bored means more time to take in what is around you," Ms. Parson says. "Allow kids to have the freedom to invent for themselves. That means not always supervising and hovering."


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