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Nurturing Creativity: Time, Space, and Respect

Let kids lead the way with creative projects

I have discovered three key ingredients for nurturing creativity – in children and adults. To be creative, we all need time, space, and respect.

Last year I bought these wooden bird houses for my kids to turn into doll houses. My kids enjoyed the activity, but they kept their houses very simple. Lily actually refused to paint hers! This year they pulled them out and added all sorts of details. Lily color blocked her roof and the edges (Lily has always loved color blocking).

Children need time and space to be creative

Emma and Johnny added all sorts of details to their already-painted houses – stripes, flowers, and other decorations. Emma wound up completely changing the color of her roof.

Time space and respect - key ingredients for creativity

I had given each of the kids blank wooden peg dolls representing the different members of our family for Christmas. They played with them blank for months, and then, this week, they pulled them out and decorated them with Sharpie pens.

Child-decorated wooden toys

Lily colored each person a different color, and gave them adorable smiles that remind me of those that are embroidered on the kids’ owie dolls.

Sharpie pen decorated peg dolls

Johnny stuck with his favorite colors – green and black. I’m pretty sure that baby is actually from Emma’s set, but it snuck into this photo somehow.

Sharpie pens make it easy to decorate peg dolls

Emma asked each family member color their particular doll. I think it is a neat idea – each family member, as we see ourselves, in this moment in time.

Give children time and space for creative expression

Then they pulled out our blocks and train set and set up a delightful play scene – which they played with all afternoon!

Children love to play with toys they made

This project never would have happened if I had ignore my children’s need for time, space, and respect. Time to get creative and find ways to entertain themselves. Time to explore different ways of decorating their people and houses. Space to decorate their houses and people however they like – including leaving them undecorated, sometimes. And respect for their ideas, their desire to change a “finished” project, and the different ways they each approached this project.

They each have a couple people who are still waiting for finishing touches, and I know that Lily at least is not done decorating her house. I am excited to see how they continue this creative journey!

MaryAnne is a craft loving educator, musician, photographer, and writer who lives in Silicon Valley with her husband Mike and their four children.

17 thoughts on “Nurturing Creativity: Time, Space, and Respect”

  1. Natalie PlanetSmartyPants

    Love this post. I am just working on the post about something similar – the art of doing nothing! Your kids are always so creative…

  2. Well said! The creative process is different for every child, and as parents, we should respect. I always like stepping back and watching my son play!

  3. Elisa | blissfulE

    This makes me think of what the opposite looks like so often: “come up with something creative, right now!” LOL! Progressive companies are recognising what wise parents and children have known all along – we need unscheduled time and the freedom to try a variety of approaches without criticism in order to create something truly unique.

    1. Yes! One thing that struck me as I watched them was how this mimicked my own approach to creative projects! It’s not at all uncommon for me to start something, and then let it sit for weeks (sometimes months, sometimes – gasp – years) before I finish it!

  4. Nice analysis, MaryAnne! You do need all three to nurture creativity. I think space is majorly looked over in a lot situations. It’s amazing how much kids can create when they have a space just for them, preferably one sized and catered to them.

    1. Rachelle Doorley’s new “Tinkerlab” book talks about exactly that – the importance of kids having a creative space that is just for them!

  5. I like this. When I think about my own creativity, I can’t enjoy the process when I’m rushed or have 1000 guidelines to follow. We have to just step back and let them be themselves, as they discover what they like and what makes them happy and let them enjoy the process (even if it means they stand back and admire their unpainted birdhouse!)

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