You probably already know how important it is for kids to indulge their creative side, but even when they’re up for being imaginative, many projects are mostly a lesson in following instructions. That’s certainly valuable, but true creativity also involves figuring things out for themselves. Neal Bascomb learned this lesson while writing his book, The New Cool. The author followed a team of 31 high school seniors in Goleta, Calif., who, in the span of just six weeks working alongside mentors, built a robot for an international competition. “This project-based, interactive experience inspires kids like nothing I've ever seen,” Bascomb says. Read on for tips on how to inspire your own children.
1. Practice what you preach.
“Mentor and coach alongside your children,” advises Bascomb. “It's incredibly inspiring for kids to work with their parents, instead of simply taking directions from them.” This way, they’ll see that you’re truly invested in their success and will view you as an ally. And hey, maybe you’ll learn something new, too! So next time they need your help with a project, instead of telling them how to do it, jump in and try to figure it out together.
2. Encourage hands-on activities.
Bascomb stresses the importance of “getting in there and working with your hands," explaining that there is something almost primal about our desire to build and create. Put away the computers and smartphones, get some tools—even just a hammer, nails and wood—and build something together. "You might light a fire inside your kid that you didn't know existed.” You’ll also help your child connect to and appreciate the way of life that previous generations experienced, before video games and the Internet.
3. Expect more from your kids.
It can be tempting to over-assist in an effort to help your child succeed, but hand-holding can backfire and send the message that she can’t do it on her own. Instead, says Bascomb, “give your kids responsibility, and expect more from them. It's amazing what kids are able to do if you push them to take a leadership role, formulate their own ideas and execute them. Give them the tools they need, and let them run.”
4. Provide the raw materials.
Lynn Louise Wonders, LPC, RPT-S, RYT, psychotherapist and director of services at Marietta Counseling for Children & Adults (MCCA) in Marietta, Ga., notes the importance of stocking your child’s environment with materials conducive to creativity. “Keep things like clay, confetti, googly eyes and popsicle sticks on hand and readily available,” she advises. Libby Chalk, LMFT, a therapist on staff at MCCA, adds, “Instead of turning on the TV for young children, purchase toys that encourage imaginative play, like a dollhouse, train table and farm set. Not only does this encourage creativity and abstract thinking, but it also provides opportunities to take on new roles and experiment with teamwork and relationships.”
5. Help them "peer up."
While parental involvement is paramount, it’s also crucial that kids have opportunities to learn with others on their level. “Find projects and outlets where your children can learn together with other kids,” Bascomb says. “Peer-to-peer learning is an incredibly motivational, exciting way to learn, and one that reinforces knowledge like no test or studying ever could.” Seek extracurricular activities and camps in which kids work together in teams to create something, like a science project or music video, or have your kids and their friends brainstorm creative projects they can do at home.
6. Applaud efforts over outcomes.
While it’s tempting to pile on the praise for a job well done, it’s more important to encourage kids throughout the process in order to recognize and engage their intrinsic creativity and ability. “When a child realizes for himself that he has the ability, potential and know-how to figure it out, his motivation becomes a much deeper pool to draw from than when he relies on external sources to boost him,” says Wonders.
7. Expand your child’s comfort zone.
Learning about different cultures and ways of life can expand your child’s mind by opening his eyes to alternate ways of doing things. “Take your children to unfamiliar places to observe a different culture, even if it's to another side of your own city,” Wonders suggests. Or regularly sample other cultures’ cuisines with your children, and “do some research together on that culture. Help your children see their own world from a different point of view.”
8. Recognize that one size does not fit all.
“Different brains process information in different ways,” explains Wonders, so don’t insist that your child create or study in a certain way if there are other viable options that may work better for her. “Brush up on different learning styles and help your child to understand the way her brain processes information most effectively." Take this quiz to discover your child's learning style then "join creative forces to find new ways to study for a test or complete a project.” You’ll be acknowledging and validating your child’s uniqueness while empowering her to figure out the things that work best for her.
9. Help them see the big picture.
Chalk suggests having older children or adolescents imagine the kind of person they want to be in five years, and even write a letter to their future self, contemplating such questions as “What do they want to be known for? What do they want their friends to like them for? What kind of activities do they want to be involved in or teams do they want to be on? What will they spend their time doing during the week and on weekends? Will they have a job? This can be a great platform to start talking about how to reach the goals they are setting and what steps they can be taking today,” explains Chalk.
10. Encourage kids to set their own bar.
Popular culture and cliques at many schools tend to promote a very narrow definition of what’s considered "cool," but your kids don’t have to buy into it. Bascomb says, “Tell your kids that cool is what they make it, no matter their interests—whether it’s football, the cello, theater, dance, writing or chess. Tell them that if they work hard, are passionate about what they’re doing, and commit fully to it, then that activity is cool. Forget what anybody else says.”
This article originally appeared on WomansDay.com and is republished here with permission.