This article of mine originally appeared in New Jersey Family.
By Abigail Connors
When my children were preschoolers, a typical day included a “vacation” behind the living-room couch (complete with backpack “suitcases” filled with toys), my 4-year-old interviewing the cat (using her tail as a microphone), and performance art involving everything from leaves and pebbles to peas and mashed potatoes!
Young children are such creative thinkers that it can be hard to keep up with them. They’re constantly coming up with songs, pictures, jokes, and ideas that surprise and delight the grown-ups in their lives. Yet somewhere along the road to adulthood, kids too often learn to think “inside the lines” and lose much of their inborn inventiveness. With a little effort, we can keep our children’s creativity alive and growing. These easy “creativity boosters” will help you inspire your child—and keep her brain humming with ideas.
- The amazing toy telephone. A toy phone can take you way beyond your regular calling plan—with no roaming charges! If your child asks why it’s raining today, grab the toy telephone, call up the sun, and ask him. Listen carefully to his answer and relay it to your child. “The sun says we need the rain so that tomatoes will grow and we can have spaghetti sauce!” The sillier the conversations, the better. Your child may want to call the moon, the wind, or the beach!
- Impromptu puppet shows. Absolutely anything can be a puppet. All it has to do is talk! Waiting for food to arrive at a restaurant? Pick up your fork and spoon and have them talk to each other. “So, Spoon, what’s up?” “I stirred some coffee today. What did you do?” “I got washed in the dishwasher! It was fun!” Let your child take over one of the roles, or both of them.
- Funny words. Try speaking in “ibble.” “Eat your peanut bibble and jibble and drink your mibble.” “Let’s play tic-tac-tibble.” “We’ll read a stibble after you get into your pajibbles.” Your child will be delighted to join in and create other funny words and think up other new “languages.”
- The power of dreams. Your child’s dreams are a gateway to more creative thinking. Encourage him to describe his dreams and to try illustrating them or dictating them to you as stories. When my daughter was a preschooler, she had a scary nightmare about spiders. I suggested that she might want to draw a picture of the spiders, and she surprised me by creating a peaceful scene of happy spiders playing under a rainbow. She had creatively transformed her fear into artistic expression.
- Once there was a little story. Invent easy, short stories, like: “Once there was a little bee, who took a trip across the sea,” or “Once there was a little fly, who liked to eat banana pie.” You can start a story for your child to finish. It may not rhyme, but that’s not a crime.
- Noise is golden. Tap rhythms with whatever is around. Shake jars and boxes of food, or blow over the tops of soda bottles for a great sound. Click spoons back-to-back. Bang on pots and pans. Encourage your child to explore the wonderful variety of tone and texture in the sounds of his world.
- Do the Arm Dance. Put on some fun dance music and do the Arm Dance with your child. Swing your arms front to back to the beat of the music. Sway them from side to side. Flap them like wings and wiggle them like worms. How many ways can you and your child come up with to move your arms to the beat? You may also want to try the Knee Dance, the Fingers Dance, and the Mouth Dance!
- Knock-knock nonsense. Knock-knock! Who’s there? Tomato! Tomato who? I’m not a tomato, I’m a carrot! Kids love to hear and invent jokes that make no sense at all, and it’s a great way to teach language skills (order, sequence, question and answer) as well as creative thinking.
- Go for a hop. The next time you and your child go for a walk, suggest going for a hop instead! Or go for a skip, a waddle, a march, or a tiptoe! Then let your child decide what to do next.
- The itsy-bitsy everything. When you’re preparing dinner, sing: “The itsy-bitsy tomato… is going in the salad,” or “The itsy-bitsy macaroni… is cooking in the pot.” Ask your child to make up a one-line “itsy-bitsy” song. Sense is optional: how about “The itsy-bitsy meatball is putting on its shoes,” or “The itsy-bitsy fork… said, ‘Hey! Where’s the spoon?’”
Your child will love the fun of these playful, silly activities. But they’re more than fun. By sharing activities like these, you’ll help your child develop the creative thinking skills he’ll use for a lifetime.