How Parents Can Raise Creative Thinkers in the Face of Elementary and Middle School Social Pressures
It’s proven through government studies that creativity is a valuable asset best developed through the arts. Creativity is known as the fundamental driver of innovation. Art education develops the critical thinking skills and problem solving abilities necessary to create our future innovators. However, it can be quite difficult for parents to retain the adventurous free spirit of early childhood in the face of elementary and middle school social pressures. How can parents raise the next generation of creative thinkers?
Unstructured artwork is characteristic of pre-school and kindergarten age children. They draw stick figures and love to splatter paint with fingers onto huge sheets of paper. Parents enjoy the self-expressive free nature found in their child’s art. Exploration and risk-taking are encouraged, even if the kitchen floor is a disaster and there are two loads of laundry afterwards.
By third grade it’s clear something has changed. Children become much more cautious with their artwork. Looking at class presentations shows heightened conformity and a great degree of similarity across student artwork. Many seem too perfect to be a typical third-grader’s. Children seem a bit embarrassed by their work, and more concerned with approval than enjoyment of the process. Unless parents and teachers step in, children will continue to lose their inborn creative spark.
So what can parents do to nurture creativity into adulthood? Here are four strategies:
- Children’s physical ability to color inside the lines is seen as a developmental milestone, thus teaching at an early age that creativity has strict rules and expectations. Relying on coloring books leads to the same conformity. Instead of using structured materials such as coloring books, parents should try sketchbooks to help children find their own source of inspiration and ways to communicate through art.
- Peer pressure can influence a child’s artwork the same way it controls what clothes a child wears to school. Our society places high value on creativity, yet children instinctively feel that artwork has to be pretty to be praised. Parents need to be aware of their child’s need for social acceptance, even in art class. Asking about projects can give insight into the amount of peer pressure involved. Try “How is your work different from others in class? Or the same? What do you like / not like about your artwork? What would you do differently next time?” Let you child know that being an individual is important, and that you value an ability to be thinking independently.
- School administrators face pressure to keep art as part of the school day in the face of rising budget cuts. However, a comprehensive standards-based art curriculum isn’t just about making clay dinosaurs or painting with acrylics. A true study of the visual arts is cross-curricular, uniquely connecting the “core” course of math, history, language arts and science. As a parent, don’t let art get pushed aside as being a “special”. If your child has art class in school or as part of an afterschool program, find out just what topics are being explored. It’s not just about what they have made in class, it’s about learning to ask questions and explore the relationship between subjects. If you want children with critical thinking skills and better grades, it’s proven that you should start with art.
- Art needs to stay fun. It develops self-expression that is free from “right and wrong” test-driven coursework. Art explores the basis of human knowledge about our world and is the best way for children to discover their unique place in it. So keep it fun by taking trips to museums, talking about movies or picture books – really anything visual that creates an emotional response, good or bad. Then think, discuss, and ask “Why?” “What did it mean to you?” “Would you change it?” Not only will you have more quality time with your family, you’ll also be developing critical thinking skills.
Teaching children to ask questions is essential towards their creative development. Art should be a place where children can learn, explore and create without right or wrong answers. By nurturing creativity we develop future innovators. So don’t be afraid to teach children to color outside the lines