RAISE A CREATIVE CHILD
Imagination is about more than just raising an arty child – it’s a tool for life
With the world changing daily, and futurists and trend spotters the world over predicting a radically changed job market in the future, part of your role as a parent is to equip your child with the life skills he’ll need for success. Future forecasters espouse flexibility, imagination and creativity as must-have, lucrative skills. The time is ripe to nurture and grow these abilities that children are actually born with.
A GOOD MANY PARTS TO IT
“An active imagination helps your child in many ways,” says Sarah Cohen-Schwarz, a registered counsellor with a special interest in art therapy for children. She says that studies have shown that children whose creativity had been actively developed over time were found to be more resourceful when it comes to dealing with life’s challenges. Creativity partly means being able to think on your feet, approach tasks from different perspectives and thinking outside the box. “It gives children a place for expression and connection, which are central in identity formation, relationships and agency formation,” says neuroscientist Luke Lamprecht.
“Creativity builds confidence,” says Sarah. It allows children to make mistakes and learn from them. Children also learn that constructive feedback is a helpful part of learning, and not something to be taken personally. It creates empathy too when other kids enter the play, and your child learns communication, social skills and the art of negotiation. Asking questions like “How do I turn this clay into a sculpture?” or “What do I need for Teddy’s bedtime?” also develops skills in reasoning and understanding, which are also necessary tools for success in life. “Problem-solving is another major natural benefit of creativity,” says Sarah. Other skills developed through creativity include perseverance, dedication and the ability to focus. “Research has shown that participation in the arts improves concentration,” says Luke. Through artistic expression, children practise collaboration, sharing responsibility and compromising for a common goal. “If it’s nurtured throughout childhood, creative thinking will come naturally in the future,” says Sarah.
DOWN TO BRAIN TRAINING
While imagination and creativity are skills that children are generally born with, it takes practice for the brain to turn it into second nature. “During the first few years of life, a child has many more neurons than are necessary. As a result, the brain is pruned on the basis of ‘use it or lose it’. Although there is some plasticity (the ability to mould the brain) later in childhood, what hasn’t been developed is lost,” explains Luke. To put it simply, the more creative ways of thinking are developed, the more those neural pathways in the brain will light up and grow – and the easier it becomes for your child to think that way. “Children learn via experience. Creativity allows the brain to develop in unique ways,” says Luke. “In fact, creative play may function as an important, if not crucial, mode for learning.”
FLIGHTS OF FANCY HAVE A REAL-WORLD PURPOSE
Have you ever watched your little one play make-believe? The bath becomes a mermaid’s cove, the bed turns into a dragon’s lair and grey playdough transforms into a scrumptious piece of cake. This kind of fantasy (or pretend) play is a key part of her learning. “Selfexpression as part of pretend play is a way of working things out that happen in life,” says Sarah. It gives children a chance to work out big-world rules about sharing, social interaction and conflict resolution.
“Pretend play has also been correlated with the crucial ability to self-regulate impulses, emotions and attention and the ability to reason,” says Sarah. Dreaming up imaginary situations – like where he rescues his friends from aliens – gives your child a sense of control even in unfamiliar or scary situations. Or while pretending to be a doctor, she’s developing social and verbal skills. Re-enacting events that have happened is a way of roleplaying that teaches her how to manage situations, practise discipline and develop an understanding of cause and effect.
“Pretend play, also called symbolic or imaginative play, usually first appears between the ages of 18 and 24 months,” says Luke. The self-expression of make-believe teaches courage and curiosity. “This phase is instrumental in your child’s physical and intellectual development,” says Luke. Additionally, two thirds of toddlers between two and five years of age invent an imaginary friend. This doesn’t mean that your child is lonely or a social outcast, but rather signifies his burgeoning sociability and creativity.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
You may be wondering what roles you get to play in this exciting world of your child’s growing imagination. There are many ways that you can engage with and help grow this skill. It comes down to supporting her and encouraging the process as it happens. “As a parent, your attitude is crucial. Our children look to us for guidance, feeling good and learning how to behave and believe in this world. Creative confidence relies on self-confidence,” explains Sarah. “Abundant and specific praise, buying into their fantasies and extending trust in their creative abilities is crucial.” So, for example, if your toddler wants to create a castle in your lounge, give her freedom to do it how she wants (within limits) and let her know that you’re available if she needs help. Once she’s finished, compliment her on the finished product and her creative use of everyday materials to make her castle (using the pillows as a tower, or a sheet on the floor as a moat). Ask her questions about her process in creating the castle.
When it comes to the imagination, there needs to be no competition. Your child needs to know that there are no limits when she’s exploring her creativity – it’s a space where anything goes. “Removing the anxiety of winning, perfection or being the best frees a child to create without fear of judgment,” says Sarah. And while you’re at it, try to find your own playful spirit! YB
WHEN IT COMES TO THE IMAGINATION, THERE NEEDS TO BE NO COMPETITION. YOUR CHILD NEEDS TO KNOW THAT THERE ARE NO LIMITS WHEN SHE’S EXPLORING HER CREATIVITY – IT’S A SPACE WHERE ANYTHING GOES