Children are naturally creative
By the very nature of their inexperienced minds, children learn my doing, thinking, and observing. They have yet to narrow down their reactions to events because they haven't learned what works and what doesn't work. Adults have years of trial and error experience through which we see the world and attempt to navigate it.
As I've noted before, I believe that children today have lost some of the ability to stretch their creative muscles for a number of reasons. As a writer for children, my goal is to foster a sense of wonder about the world in children, and that can't happen without a well-developed imagination.
Children have loads of imagination. However, I think many adults unwittingly stifle its expression. I believe many parents think that they are helping develop a child's imagination, when the activities they plan actually serve to do the opposite by imposing unnecessary parameters on creative thought. Whether it's art lessons, dance lessons, singing lessons, instrument lessons--these are all worthy activities (indeed, necessary activities to develop skill)--but they lack a very important element required to cultivate imagination and creativity.
The number one obstacle to imagination and creativity in children is a lack of free time. I mean, real free time, and copious amounts of it. As a writer, all my life, I have protected, relished, and craved free time. What do I mean by real free time? Here's a list of qualities I use to describe what real free time is, from someone who absolutely requires it:
What else is a required element to foster imagination?
Boredom doesn't last long with children, despite complaints to the contrary. The first few times real, solitary free time is made available to them, boredom may be the main event. That's good!
Boredom means the mind is empty and free to be filled with ideas of the child's own creation. It may take some time for the severely-free-time-deprived child to learn how to work past boredom, but their brains are wired to figure it out, so don't worry.
Observation and asking What if...?
Whenever I have worked with students on a creative writing project, there are always a few who have trouble coming up with ideas. I tell them to look at the room around them and write down what they see; desk, pencil, textbook, window, etc. This practice eliminates the mystery of "inventing" an idea and erases the fear of the blank page. More often than not, the student overcomes the initial block almost immediately.
Remember: The purpose of real free time is to make space for imagination and creativity, not to produce any kind of reportable result. However, if a child can't seem to overcome boredom during free time, especially if they show signs of extreme frustration, suggest the above observation technique. But only suggest it later, outside of free time, preferably during a normal conversation.
The next step is to offer another thought-experiment...
"What If?" is the big question that births all of my writing ideas. It can start small. What if the curtains were blue instead of white? What if it was sunny instead of rainy outside? What if the floor was lava? What if the TARDIS flew past my window?
Remember: None of this has to be written down. Some children may want to do so, but it's not a homework assignment. The goal is to go within the mind and just imagine!
The Professor is In!
Just kidding. There is only one Mary Poppins, and she is my idol.
The advice I give comes from my personal experience, how I have used my own free time as both child and adult, and how I made free time a priority with my own three children. They have all grown to be incredibly creative and imaginative humans. I couldn't be more proud.
In no particular order:
Parents only want what's best for their children and sometimes it leads to a degree of micromanaging that stifles imagination and creativity. Take a step back. Relax. Let go of your expectations. Give the kids (and yourself) the chance to be bored...
I write novels and poetry and this blog.