Inspiring Creativity in Children
Montessori’s Methods for Encouraging Creativity
Fostering creativity and nurturing uniqueness are an important part of a parent’s role in his or her child’s development. There are many ways moms and dads can encourage a child’s creative spirit—and these efforts will pay off as the child reaps the rewards of independence and self-direction.
“In a society in which it seems many parents are focused on children developing skills as early and as fast as possible, the value of creativity can be ignored,” explains Virginia Shiller, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of the book Rewards for Kids! Ready-to-Use Charts & Activities for Positive Parenting. “Creativity is the process of coming up with new ideas,” she says. “For young children it often involves new ways of looking at or using familiar objects.”
In 1907, Dr. Maria Montessori started the first Montessori classroom. In the class, children were grouped for a three-year age mix (three to six, six to twelve, twelve to fifteen), which allowed for both individual and social development. The approach, called the Montessori Method, offers a broad vision of education as a way of life. It is designed to tap into the natural development of children, giving kids the freedom to work at their own paces—either alone or with others—with materials they have chosen. The flexibility of the approach—often not found in everyday life or in the typical preschool classroom—provides a foundation within which each child’s inner directives freely guide him or her.
Parents can allow their children the freedom to explore and become intimate with all aspects of life—its surroundings, its phenomena, and its inhabitants, human and non-human, according to Renilde Montessori, President, Association Montessori International. “It is this intimacy that leads to every kind of creativity,” he notes.
Montessori’s ideas need not be limited to the classroom, however. Parents can implement the Montessori principles of child development and education at home, too. First, you must look at your home through your child’s perspective. Let your son or daughter experience as much as possible; by participating fully in everyday routines, he or she gains a sense of belonging and of being needed.
Toddlers and preschoolers often plead for parents to “Let me do it by myself.” While allowing them to accomplish things on their own often means more time to get each task done, by listening and allowing the child the freedom, you foster independence and creativity. For example, by finding ways to let your child participate in meal preparation, cleaning, gardening, and caring for clothes, shoes, and toys, you can help build your child’s self-esteem.
For young children, creativity often involves new ways of doing things or using familiar objects. Yet in today’s society, this is often discouraged. “It is striking to note certain changes in toys over the years, vehicles, or other objects based on the child’s imagination,” Dr. Shiller explains.
“For example, LEGO sets now often contain the blocks for specific objects, so that children put them together in a pre-determined way. In the past, LEGOS were used by children to construct buildings. While educational toys that teach children math skills or geography facts have their value, these kinds of toys don’t encourage children to be creative,” she adds.
Creativity is fostered by taking the pressure off children to acquire skills and by encouraging them to do what children are inclined to do naturally—to play in imaginative ways. “Fostering children’s creativity is very important. Having the confidence and experience of thinking and playing creatively can not only help growing children develop hobbies that provide pleasure, but also can prepare children for a world that will rapidly change during their lifetime. Computers will be doing much of society’s ‘thinking’ in coming years, but computers aren’t especially good at being creative! New ideas will help the next generation adapt to the many changes they are likely to encounter,” says Dr. Shiller.
“My children never play with toys the way they are supposed to,” says Nadine Jackson, mother of two boys ages six and three, who lives in Blackwood, New Jersey. “They often take toys apart, stack them on top of each other, or use them as props in their little shows. They love to play with empty boxes and paper towel rolls. They use tape and markers, glue, and paint. They create ‘projects’ and really make a mess everyday,” she says.
Yet, Jackson allows her sons to play unhindered. “Why should they play with toys the way a manufacturer directs? I let them be free with it. They have fun coming up with wild stories and play for hours, and then we have to clean it all up,” she explains.
Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author of Blending Families, advocates this approach as well. She notes that parents should allow children to come up with their own creative expressions. “Praise, don’t be critical of a child’s creative efforts. A picture doesn’t have to be perfect, just the child’s expression,” she says.
A “creative corner” in your home with age-appropriate materials such as play dough, crayons, plain paper, paste, safety scissors, stickers, colored construction paper, and pipe cleaners will encourage creative expression. “Let them make a mess…but teach them to help clean it up afterwards,” says Fantle Shimberg.
When selecting toys for children, parents should consider playthings that develop creativity. Toys that encourage creativity by being open-ended, that is having more than one right way to be played with, challenge young minds more than toys with just one purpose.
Additionally, there are many things children will enjoy playing with creatively that you may already have at home; for example, saving old scarves, nightgowns, shirts, and shoes and putting together a dress-up box will lend itself to “pretend play.” “When the kids put on a play, be an enthusiastic audience,” adds Fantle Shimberg.
Most importantly, Fantle Shimberg recommends appealing to all of a child’s senses. Try these methods to get started:
- Play different kinds of music
- Let kids play with modeling clay
- Have them distinguish odors like flowers, fish, and cabbage
- Have children close their eyes and feel sandpaper, fur, and silk, or taste sugar, salt, and sour items, etc.
Hosting a creative environment in your home might not be the norm—and could get a bit messy—but children in a home that encourages creativity will grow and develop in wonderful, sometimes surprising ways.
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