A few weeks ago, my son picked up a Crayola marker and carefully filled in a green leaf on his coloring page. Without looking up, he said to me, “My friends told me I don’t know how to color.”
“What do you mean?” I asked him, confused.
“I keep going outside of the lines,” he murmured as he colored slowly with intent and precision not often seen in a four-year-old.
“I love the creative way you color,” I answered after a pause that brought me to the brink of mamma-bear mode. “Don’t worry about what anyone else tells you. Color however you want, sweetie.”
He didn’t answer for a minute. I’m not even sure that he heard me. He looked up after he had finished the leaves and asked, “What color is a dinosaur REALLY? Joey* told me I can’t use rainbow.”
Even though he moved on from coloring to new activities and went right back to being his smiling and bouncy self, I was stuck on the rainbow dinosaur my son felt that he wasn’t supposed to make.
Is there a wrong way to color? The right way? Of course not. There are no rules for coloring.
If you’d asked me at a younger age if I considered myself to be creative, I would have told you no. For a long time, I equated creativity to the ability to successfully draw more than simple stick figures. It was synonymous with artistic ability in my mind, and my school artwork was only ever displayed on my parents’ refrigerator. I had come to terms with that.
I know now, though, that creativity isn’t the result; it’s the process. It’s thinking outside of the box. It’s doing something in a new or different way. It’s a rainbow dinosaur when every other T-Rex is green or brown.
How can parents foster creativity in children?
1. We can provide varied resources while removing rules and expectations. Give space– not just a physical space for making a mess, but space from adult ideas and processes. Set aside your Type A or Enneagram 1 and 8, and allow your child to do things his or her way without suggestions or direction. And, to the best of your ability, provide a variety of materials beyond the expected supplies or colors.
2. We can encourage curiosity and explore new cultures. Visit museums, learn about the world outside of our neighborhood, and take music and art lessons. Provide lots of time for reading and unstructured exploration with open-ended materials and imagination. Sometimes the best rainy day activity can be thinking of ways to re-purpose existing household objects!
3. We can recognize and name creativity when we see it. Praise innovation and explain to your children why you love certain singers, artists, entrepreneurs, and thinkers. When you share how your day went at work, mention the positives but also acknowledge your failures and explain how you’re working to overcome them; recognize and model your creative process!
4. We can value creativity just as much as (if not more than) the standardized test scores our children bring home or the answer to the question we ask at open houses about where students go to high school or college. Ask teachers at parent/teacher conferences how they foster creativity in their classroom. Ask if creativity is taught directly (it can be!), and ask if and how rubrics assess student creativity. Ask if strength-based assessments are permitted and even encouraged in place of more traditional summative and formative assessments.
Remember that creativity isn’t something that you’re born with or without; it’s a skill set that’s developed and learned.
Nurture and prioritize creativity. You won’t regret it.
Son, grab those markers and color outside of the lines. I love your rainbow dinosaurs… and your creativity.
Love this so much, Katie! True story: We moved our son to different pre-K when he was 3, almost 4y/o, so that he could be at the same school as his brother who was beginning kindergarten at a new school. I started to pick up some weird vibes at the new preschool from the first day. On the third day of school, my 3y/o came home with a page long handwritten note from his teacher stating that he used a black crayon to color his hair in a self-portrait after his teacher ‘expressly told him’ that he had brown hair and that this behavior was not acceptable. I immediately knew that this was not the school for him/us, at all. After reading that note, I kissed my little 3y/o rebel on top of his head, picked up the phone to call his former preschool and begged for his spot back. Thankfully we were able to move him back to his other school where he was free to color his hair whatever color he wanted, inside the lines or out. His 5 y/o brother that remained there in kindergarten was referred to OT in October for coloring a picture of Jesus outside the lines. Neither one of our children is still at that school. We need more teachers being ok with kids that color outside the lines.