Last month I interviewed Tom Sturges, a music executive and mentor, about his tips for cultivating creativity in kids. This month I wanted to share some great tips from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way for Parents: Raising Creative Children.
If you’re unfamiliar with Cameron, she penned a bestselling book on the creative process called The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity. She’s also a novelist, playwright, songwriter and poet.
The Artist’s Way for Parents is a guide for nurturing your kids’ creativity. You’ll find 12 chapters, each of which focuses on cultivating a different skill or approach, such as curiosity, connection, limits, inventiveness, discovery and focus.
Cultivating your child’s creativity goes beyond providing paint and paper, as Russell Granet, a leading expert in arts education, says in Cameron’s book.
“It’s a way to see the world, a way to look at things,” he says.
He further explains, “If we go through the world looking through the lens of creativity, we set up innovative thinking in our kids. I think that non-artists should actively think like artists.”
Of course, many of us don’t think like artists. We don’t see ourselves as creative beings.
Cameron shares this example: Your child asks you to draw an animal, tell them a story or give them guidance on the best paints to buy. You say, “I’m not very creative” or “I’m not really artistic.”
But you are. Everyone is creative. “Creativity is the natural order of life,” Cameron writes.
“When we tell our children that we are not creative, our children learn that there is such a thing as ‘not being creative,’ which is deeply untrue. Once they have this (mis)information, it is a short walk to their repeating it about themselves.”
When you encourage creativity both in yourself and your child, Cameron writes, you also cultivate happiness, connection and abilities in other areas.
Here are five great ideas for cultivating your child’s creativity from The Artist’s Way for Parents.
1. Go on a “creative expedition” together.
According to Cameron a creative expedition is “a once-weekly dual adventure that the parent and child plan, look forward to, and take together.” It doesn’t have to be big, she says. It just needs to be “festive.”
One mom started taking her daughter on a creative expedition when she was an infant. They’d go everywhere from a museum to a shoe store. “I could tell that even though my child was too young to experience the places herself, she was alert and taking in the images. I could tell the change of scenery interested her and made her happy, as it did me.”
Another mom, who has four sons, rotates which child chooses the adventure of the week. Her oldest son takes pride in picking an activity that everyone will enjoy.
Cameron suggests listing five creative expeditions that you and your child can take. It may be anything, she says, from the zoo to the library to a new playground to a cathedral.
2. Have your child teach you something.
Pick a topic that your child knows more about than you do. Ask them to give you a lesson on this topic. According to Cameron, this communicates to your child “You know things. You have something to say, something to teach. I want to learn from you.”
3. Model imperfection.
If you’re able to create freely, without fixating on perfection, then your child will probably do the same. Instead of getting paralyzed by the pursuit for perfection, they’ll learn to play, find lessons in mistakes and keep trying.
One of Cameron’s friends, an actor, shows her daughter (who’s also interested in acting) films of her earliest rehearsals and performances. She tells her: “See? Everyone starts as a beginner.”
Make a list of five activities you’d like to model imperfectly for your child. Start with the sentence: “If I didn’t have to do it perfectly, I would try….”
Next, ask your child: If you could try any creative activity you’ve never tried before, what would it be? Then figure out what small step they can take. For instance, if your child says “filmmaker,” let her film a short movie on your phone.
Cameron includes an important reminder for all of us about striving for perfection: “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best — it is the pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us we will never be good enough. Perfectionism is egotism parading as virtue. Do not be fooled. We are good enough. And our children are good enough, as well.”
4. Play with storytelling.
Start with telling a story to your child. If you’re not sure about the topic, ask them for one. As Cameron writes, “Perhaps it is about the flower on the windowsill or the dog at your feet. Perhaps it is about the invented life of the neighbor across the street or the passerby in the grocery store.”
When you’re done with your story, ask your child to weave a tale of their own. Be sure to really listen.
5. Create a collage.
Do this activity “separately but together,” Cameron writes. You’ll need some old magazines, scissors, glue and posterboard. To create their collage, family members can pick the images that resonate with them. This activity gives individuals insights into themselves, and it’ll give you insights into your kids and partner. Plus, each person can “present” their collage to everyone.
Remember that creativity is powerful. According to Cameron, “Exercising our creativity is an act of faith, which connects us to a higher power. When we are willing to explore our creative gifts, we allow both ourselves and our children to connect to something greater — and to each other.”