Starting with a squiggle, you can draw the whole world as long as you use your imagination. This ability to knead the dreamscape feeds creativity and fosters out-of-the-box solutions to real-world problems. The skill is developed in childhood.
Ola Ahmed, Consultant Lead Child and Adolescent Psychologist, Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, explains that creativity, which involves thinking imaginatively and in ways that generate novel and interesting ideas, plays an important role in children’s learning and knowledge acquisition skills, both as part of their formal education and more broadly.
That’s why days like today – International Dot Day, which celebrates creativity, courage, and collaboration – are so important. They bring into focus why playtime is such serious business.
Playing helps children establish new neural pathways, problem solve and even learn about social cues. Play theorist Brian Sutton-Smith is quoted as saying in research paper ‘Play In Children’s Development, Health And Well-Being ‘ by Jeffrey Goldstein: “Not only are children developing the neurological foundations that will enable problem solving, language and creativity, they are also learning while they are playing. They are learning how to relate to others, how to calibrate their muscles and bodies and how to think in abstract terms. Through their play children learn how to learn. What is acquired through play is not specific information but a general mind set towards solving problems that includes both abstraction and combinatorial flexibility where children string bits of behaviour together to form novel solutions to problems requiring the restructuring of thought or action.”
Creativity, which involves thinking imaginatively and in ways that generate novel and interesting ideas, plays an important role in children’s learning and knowledge acquisition skills, both as part of their formal education and more broadly.
Encouraging creativity at home
The onus of a lot of this engagement is on a parent/guardian. Shonali Lihala, Chief Play Officer at Katie Jane Dubai, explains that when it comes to fostering creativity, the process is important and not the end result. “Let children have time to simply explore, experiment without an end goal. We want to praise effort and not the result. Instead of saying “good job/ nice painting” we can say, 'I loved the way you used yellow today' 'What was the part you liked the most about this?' 'What part would you like to change?'” says Lihala.
“Be silly. Be playful in everyday life. For younger children, use a box as a hat, stomp like a dinosaur on the way to the bathroom. For older children, joke, play around with words and with ideas. Encourage them to create their own silly games and experiments,” she adds.
Another thing that can really empower children’s thoughts is exploration. “Encourage an atmosphere of discovery at home. It’s okay to be wrong, let’s discover! Let’s find out! When a child is wrong, I usually say, 'Let’s find out' and then take them to a resource (encyclopedia books, internet searches) that is appropriate for their age. When a child asks a question, you can reflect it back to them, 'What do you think?' or 'Why do you think so?' or 'What could we do differently?' These open ended questions allow children to find their own creative solutions to problems that may be very different from what we had in mind,” she says.
Lihala adds that besides process, there are two key ingredients to growing a child’s imagination: space and materials. She says:
Creativity is messy, and it needs a physical space. Let children have a space to create a Lego creation without having to clean it up, maybe they would like to add to it the next day.
Access to materials is the key. For creativity to blossom, children need access to loose parts (things like cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, cotton, leaves, rocks, sticks, etc.) Allow them to create a collection, gather some things on walks, on trips (help them organise it). Make sure they can then reach or use the materials in their play space (you can keep some out and some stored away). Let children use the extra glue, the extra glitter, stick it upside down.
On a last note, follow the child! Some children create through stories, some through constructing (with cardboard or Lego). Cultivate their interest, obsessions are good. Use their obsessions to explore and experiment. For example, an obsession with cars can be used to learn (irrespective of your child’s age) about gravity, ramps, mechanics, math. They can be used in pretend play (gas station, roller coaster,) or even in messy play activities.
UAE-based Algerian mum-of-two and parenting blogger Houda Ghediri offers some tips on how to help your child’s imagination grow:
READING IS KEY: I know this seems like an obvious one for many but I can’t emphasise its importance enough. Start reading to your kids from a young age, and get them to read as many books as you can when they are able to read. It doesn’t matter what genre they are reading. Let them pick what they want to read, make reading time a relaxing one and show how much you are deeply involved and interested in this activity, either by reading to them, asking them questions about the story they are reading or trying to find activities related to the story which you can make together. Make it a daily ritual that your kids will be longing to.
EXPOSURE TO SHOWS: Expose them to everything and anything kids’ related. Keep an eye out for free workshops and events, take them to museums, kids’ shows and exhibitions, and anything that can inspire them in one way or another.
ARTS AND CRAFTS: Allow them to be creative at home. Prepare a small corner where you put crafts material, paper, colouring pencils and let them unleash their creativity. Don’t try to control what they are doing. Just let them be! I know we moms often want our house to be clean and tidy but I am all up for keeping cardboards, boxes, toilet paper rolls and other stuff my kids can use to make something out of them, even if it means having some clutter somewhere in the house.
Ask your kids to recreate any story they read or even a movie with their toys. It could be using Lego or figurines. Recreating stories spark imagination and you might be surprised that your kids prefer to go with another ending to the story than the one they initially read, which is a great way for them to enhance their imagination.
REDO STORY ENDINGS: Ask your kids to recreate any story they read or even a movie with their toys. It could be using Lego or figurines. Recreating stories spark imagination and you might be surprised that your kids prefer to go with another ending to the story than the one they initially read, which is a great way for them to enhance their imagination.
ENCOURAGE CURIOSITY: Reply to your kids questions no matter how silly you think they are. If they ask how the toilet works, for example, take the time to go and do some research about it and then explain it to your kid or get them to watch a useful video you found about it. It is even better if you ask the question back to your child and see what they think, get their answer and then research it together.
QUESTION THEIR WORK: If your kids show you their drawing, don’t just say it is nice but ask them questions about why they chose such or such colour and what made them come up with what they drew, etc. Such questions will make them recognise their inner creative spark and motivate them to be more on the lookout for more creative stuff to make.
COMPLICATE THINGS A BIT: Try to find different ways of doing their school projects instead of the usual routine ones. So, instead of making a written poster for example, why not bring some small items that can represent what they child wants to say in his poster and stick them together? It could also be a Lego creation that the child will take to school instead of a simple drawing.
Pretend play and its importance
When children play make-believe they exercise the muscles of imagination, strengthening their story-telling – and world-generation - skills. Dr Ahmed explains: “Pretend or ‘make believe’ play typically sees children acting out scenarios or stories in which they explore and test out different roles, perspectives, ideas, and emotions. This might involve play with conventional toys, like a young child’s attempts to feed a doll or race toy vehicles against one another. It may also involve more symbolic or imaginative interactions, when objects are used to represent something else entirely.
By making choices and navigating the course of play, children are learning to think more flexibly and, ultimately, creatively
As children grow and add more details to their construct, they discover more lateral thinking skills. “Across these different stages of complexity, pretend play supports the emergence of a myriad of skills. Physical and motor skills develop as children manipulate different objects and interact with their surroundings. Language and communication skills are built as children express their thoughts and communicate with others as part of play interactions. Socio-emotional skills are enhanced as children learn to identify and respond to the feelings and actions of others. In addition, children are able to practice more advanced social skills during these interactions, including how to negotiate and problem-solve. Finally, pretend play supports emerging cognitive skills, including how to think more abstractly and symbolically. By making choices and navigating the course of play, children are learning to think more flexibly and, ultimately, creatively,” adds Dr Ahmed.
Imagination lays the paths to distant – and different – worlds; places of wonder and creativity. And the best way to stimulate this ability is through play. Game on.
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