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A parent’s pocket guide

There is no one “right” way to foster creativity in a child. Each child and each family are different; what works with your child might not work with your friend’s child.

That said, we have noticed a few things in particular that seem to work well and resonate with most kids. So here is the Center for Imagination’s best tips for fostering a creative home environment or what we like to call our “Parent’s Pocket Guide.”

Laura Mann

Attention is the mind’s most valuable resource.

Whether you have been reading “Imagine That!” for a while or you have joined in reading the column recently, this list will feature some new things. And we have saved the best for last.

1. Make a “boredom buster” list. You and your child can work together to create a list of things that they can do, that will be at the ready when they come to you with the inevitable “I’m bored” statement. Don’t be afraid to add a chore at the bottom of the list to make all others look even more attractive.

2. Create an “art box.” Put together a box full of things necessary for an impromptu art project. Any art supplies can go into the art box: Markers, colored pencils, crayons, charcoals, finger paints, paper, cardboard, tape, and scissors are just a few ideas. This box can be customized to accommodate supplies for your child’s particular favorite art projects.

3. Create a “dress-up” box. Hit up the local thrift store and find some outrageous outfits to put into a dress-up box. Grown-up-sized clothes are fine — playing make believe does not require tailor-made costumes. You don’t have to spend a lot of money, and the stuff in the box can be re-purposed for Halloween costumes later on.

4. Make sure that “screen time” is earned. Time outside, time spent on free play activities, time spent reading, and time spent on chores come before TV. When screens are on, make it into a teachable moment. Ask your child about her favorite TV characters and their behavior, or challenge your child to a video game and have her or him teach you a few tricks.

5. Buy Legos that are just Legos and Play Doh that is just Play Doh. Sets that have only one outcome can be fun, but the finished project with a set is the result of someone else’s imagination, not your child’s. The child psychologists and authors of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn — And Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less say, “Toys should be 90 percent child and 10 percent toy. The child should be the play creator; the toy is only the prop.”

6. Create a family video or photo scrapbook. Make something that speaks to who you are as a family: What are the important things about your family? What are you good at? What challenges have you overcome? This will be very useful in exploring Item 7.

7. Develop a strong family narrative. Finally, the single most important thing you can do may be the simplest of all. Children who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges. The more children know their family history, the stronger their sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, emotional health, and happiness.

If your child doesn’t respond to something listed here, don’t panic; again, each kid is unique. If we were all the same, there would be no creativity in the world.

Luckily, most of the items listed here are inexpensive (or free) and very easy to implement. For the most part, the time required to set up each activity is nominal. For example, it takes only a couple hours in the thrift shop to put together a neat dress-up box that might yield hours, weeks, days, even years of happy, creative play time.

Attention is the mind’s most valuable resource. Whatever your children pay attention to is what grows and becomes hardwired.

Imagine That!

Laura Mann graduated in Emerging Media and Communications from the University of Texas, and writes for The Dallas Observer. She also provides media assistance to the MediaWise Movement.

© Michael Mann, 2013, all rights retained. Printed by permission of the author.

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