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Good Idea

How To Encourage And Inspire Your Kid’s Natural Creativity

You think that kids are bottomless wells of creativity, because they routinely bring home crayon scribbles titled “Fire Truck Docking At The International Space Station.” Having a good imagination is one thing, but using it to get ahead in life is another. Peter Himmelman, the Grammy- and Emmy-nominated singer-songwriter and author of the new book, Let Me Out: Unlock Your Creative Mind And Bring Your Ideas To Life, has a few techniques for you, the adult, whose creativity is limited to pithy out-of-office notifications.

Here’s how you can get your kid to start applying their weirdo ideas to more than just refrigerator art.

Be Their Most Interesting Man In The World

Does working and parenting really get in the way of avant garde jazz exploration? Appreciating Renaissance painters? Watching Netflix Originals? If you’re already modeling how to be polite, how to be empathetic, and how to not pick your nose in public, why not also model creativity? Instead of being stuck in Kidz Bop purgatory, or throwing on your “MOR Dad Rock” mix on Spotify again, switch it up. Trying something new with your kid is a small step towards improving their taste. Or, as Himmelman puts it, “No kid is too young to listen to Charles Mingus.” Although, you might want to wait until puberty to give them Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew.

Give Them A Nudge With Creativity Exercises

Himmelman swears by these simple creativity exercises to get the brain going. If done right, your kid might have a marketable idea by the time you drop them off at school:

  • Make Mad Libs: Ask a silly question, get a silly answer. Try teeing up some phrases for your kid to finish, like “Freddy went down to the river, sat on a stick of green. He saw a worm come up from the bottom, with a face that looked ____.” Himmelman’s says that his kids would turn the tables on him and feed him lines to finish.
  • Employ Sesquipedal Elucidations: “Don’t feel that because you’re talking to a kid every word has to be monosyllabic,” he says. Reach deep into your vocabulary. Not only will it make you feel better about how much you paid for your education, it’ll help them lucubrate without being too excursive.
  • Stare At The Clouds: “It’s really an old school thing but it requires that you get into this semi-dream state,” says Himmelman. “It models a productive, child-like behavior,” and that, he says, is the root of creative thinking. Hey, look, it’s a T-Rex eating Brazil!
  • The Micro-Meditative Exercise: Ask your kid to identify the smallest thing they can see. Like the lone shadow cast by a single Rice Krispie. Then ask them to block out everything besides that tiny shadow for 30 seconds. “It’s like lifting weights,” says Himmelman. Often, the creative process requires subtracting things. “In a way, that extreme focus is how we get things done; we separate out all that we don’t want.”

Bust Through Drudgery

Even things they think are fun (like coloring) can become monotonous (like coloring sky). “Build up the narrative before the thing is even created, so you’re shooting for something,” says Himmelman. So, if that Sky Blue crayon is getting down to a nub and your kid is no longer into the project, give their pic a purpose. Say it’s no longer just a drawing on a plane. Now, it’s the “Welcome” sign to Playmobil Regional Airport.

Break Ideas Into Tiny Parts

When kids have cool ideas, but can’t bring them to fruition by themselves, help break it into tiny components. Want to build something complicated like a go-kart? First, go hunting for YouTube videos and pictures. Then make a drawing together. Visit a hobby store and talk about how the wheels will be attached. “Implement the components bit by bit, while maintaining a clear picture of the finished product,” says Himmelman. That finished product should have flames painted on the sides, by the way.

Cedar Rapids movie still Ed Helms
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Don’t Smother Their Spark

You’ve shown them what you think is cool, now give your kid a chance to figure it out. They might want to be a LEGO Master Builder, but if you run out and get them the 5000-piece set because you see some interest, your overbearingness will kill that ambition. “They’re never going to do it if they don’t have the space,” Himmelman says. So, don’t be a space invader.