When you think of a creative person, a painter, composer or novelist likely comes to mind. We don’t always associate creativity with an executive who restructures a company, a doctor who solves a medical mystery, or a mother who develops a way to stop her son’s tantrums in their tracks. Creative thinking is a quality many people possess, and is associated with originality, flexibility, problem solving, innovation, exploration, self-esteem and motivation.
Creativity isn’t something your baby is either born with or without. It can be nurtured, and you can start today! Here are some ways:
• Allow Plenty of Unstructured Free Play
Baby classes, stroller running clubs and play dates are mainstays in modern life. As a new parent, especially if you’re home with your baby, these activities can save your sanity! It can be easy, though, to over-schedule your days. Allowing for free play and art is crucial to creative development. Creativity blossoms when children have the freedom to explore and try new and different things.
While interacting with your baby in meaningful ways is the single most important aspect of his development, giving him some solo play time has benefits too. While you observe for safety, try setting your baby free to gravitate towards things he’s interested in. This will start with tummy time, when you can place several objects around him. As he becomes mobile, he will love traversing the house and finding things to play with—often everyday objects like the shoelaces on your sneakers.
A note about pretend play: When he is about 18 months old, your baby’s imagination will blossom as he enters the exciting world of pretend (symbolic) play. Research has shown that this play is directly linked to a child’s future capacity for creative thinking, so encouraging this play is key.
• Create Toys With Everyday Objects
Aside from your sneakers, your baby will love to bang on a cardboard box with a wooden spoon, or shake a maraca made by filling an empty plastic bottle with dry beans. Seasoned parents will tell you that the food storage container cabinet is a wonderland for babies. They make a giant mess on the kitchen floor, but all the nesting, stacking and problem solving (which lid fits on this container and how do I get it on?) is creative fuel.
• Let Your Baby Play With Things The “Wrong” Way
Maybe he holds a toy spoon to a stuffed bear’s foot and pretends to feed it, or he turns a toy car upside-down and pushes it on the floor. Instead of correcting him, try something like: “Oh, look! Your bear has a mouth on its foot!” This encourages him to think outside of the box—one of the hallmarks of creative thinking.
• Embrace Mistakes
While learning to master different tasks, your baby will miss the mark. Whether it’s stacking rings or (down the road) learning to write letters, teach him that mistakes are part of the process and okay. Part of creativity is taking risks, and studies show that kids who are afraid of failure take fewer risks.
• Expose Your Baby to Varied Sensory Information
Encourage creative risk-taking by allowing your baby to get messy during play and art activities. Spark his senses by taking him outside often, where light, shadow, changing temperatures and varied textures abound.
It’s more important than ever to nurture your baby’s creativity from the start. Research shows that American creativity has declined since 1990. The study’s author, Kyung-Hee Kim, suspects this may be the result of factors like strict gender roles, too much structure, and not allowing kids time and space to release creative energy. Remember that all babies have the capacity for creativity, so let yours explore and experiment as much as possible (especially if he gets messy in the process)!