“Creativity is a gift, given in some measure to all of us,” said Tom Sturges, an accomplished music executive, author, teacher and speaker. For over 15 years, Sturges has mentored and taught thousands of students to explore their creativity, “to let their creative instinct ’emerge’ rather than to force it out into the open.”
(There’s even a documentary, “Witness to a Dream,” about his work with inner-city kids in Los Angeles.)
Creativity, he noted, isn’t drawing, painting or writing a song. “These are just some uses of the creative instinct. But there are so many ways that children can be creative.”
For instance, he said, when kids create conversations between their toys, they’re being creative. As Sturges was responding to my interview questions, his son was doing this very thing — without realizing he’s being “creative.”
According to Sturges, “he’s just playing with his toys … and by letting him do this, uninterrupted and unchallenged, I am letting his creativity flow out of him. If I were to compliment him and try to turn his ramblings into a screenplay or a cartoon, I guarantee [that] would stop that moment, and probably not appear again for a very long time.”
So how can you encourage your child’s creativity without squelching it? Below, Sturges shared his three tips.
1. Welcome your child’s creativity — in whatever forms it arrives.
According to Sturges, one of the most important ways to foster creativity in your kids is to “let the creativity come forth, uninhibited, in whatever way or manner suits that child.”
For instance, he said, if a child starts improvising in the middle of their music lessons, don’t interrupt them, and have them return to their scales.
If a child starts coming up with their own dance moves, instead of practicing the steps they learned in class, he said, encourage and reward your child’s divergent thinking.
Similarly, be kind about your child’s creativity. “Children are incredibly sensitive about sharing their ideas and one has to be cognizant about this fact,” Sturges said. “A dismissive or rude comment can damn that child for years and change the way they think about themselves and what they think they can accomplish.”
In this piece on self-doubt and creativity, psychologist and photographer Meghan Davidson told me how an art teacher’s critical comment, which turned into a family joke, stopped her from exploring her creativity for 25 years.
2. Create opportunities to create.
It’s important to designate a place for your child’s creativity, said Sturges, whose new book, Every Idea Is A Good Idea, comes out September 25, 2014 from Tarcher/Penguin. “This can be a room, or a corner of the living room, an easel in the garage, or wherever that child is most comfortable.”
This also includes keeping plenty of paper, crayons and pencils to draw with, he said.
Plus, make sure there’s a regularly scheduled time for your child to “just sit and think,” and “meet his or her muse.”
3. Turn off video games and electronics.
According to Sturges, “these represent the biggest stumbling block to creativity: They think for the child and while playing with them, the child’s brain is practically inactive.”
Creativity is powerful. “It is what allows us to imagine a world different than the one we know. It is the one feature that makes each of us unique,” Sturges said. He shared a quote from one of his students, Nestor, “Creativity is what makes you you, different from everyone else.”