In Elizabeth Gilbert's book "Big Magic," a guide on how to lead a more creative life, she waxes in praise of creative parents. What I found interesting is that she challenges the definition of creativity—you can be a creative parent and foster a spirit of art and discovery in your child even if you can't draw, write or dance your way out of a paper bag. My own parents, a homemaker and an attorney, were not traditionally creative but they fostered my creativity in plenty of ways that any parent can emulate:
1. Enroll them in classes.
This one is easy, no? It's basically the least you can do (if you can afford it), but instead of just enrolling your children in summer camp or swimming, sign them up for classes that sound a little bit outside the box, something that intrigues you. My mother once signed me up for a Japanese sumi-e painting class at the Field Museum in Chicago and to this day I remember the pleasing mineral-y smell of the wet ink as I practiced the painting on my own at home. I've signed my older son up for movement and art classes in addition to hockey and the traditional kiddie sing-a-long just to give him different tasks to try, different muscles to flex.
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2. Talk to people and ask them questions.
My parents went to Singapore once and my mom met a girl my age who spoke English, and, like me, played piano and recorder. She asked her for her name and address and, when she got home, informed me that I had a pen pal. I learned how fascinating it can be to find out about people whose lives are different from your own and that if you want to get a good letter back, you have to ask questions. In that vein, whenever my son has a question for someone, I encourage him to go find out for himself. Thanks to asking adults what they're doing he's been able to see the inside of a mail truck and to get a private tour of a fire house.
Taking part in creativity along with your kids shows them that it's fun at all stages of life and that you don't have to lose your sense of imagination just because you get old.
3. Keep the conversation going.
My mother always said one thing she liked about being married to my dad is that they'd never run out of things to talk about. The art of conversation is one that is strong in my family—perhaps to an exhausting fault. I try to practice my journalistic skills on my son and ask him specific questions about his experiences. This weekend he was at a birthday party and went on a pony ride. I asked him how it was, and, of course, his answer was "Good." But I also asked him what the pony's name was, whether it was a boy or a girl and if he fed it any treats. I'm not saying this led to any significant breakthroughs, but I hope at the very least I'm demonstrating the art of curious thinking.
4. Take part in what your kids are doing.
Within reason, that is. My mom didn't play pretend with me and I don't care to build things out of Legos with my son. But I always enjoyed drawing, so often my son and I will pull out our separate coloring books (I have my own adult version) and draw together on the living room floor. Taking part in creativity along with your kids shows them that it's fun at all stages of life and that you don't have to lose your sense of imagination just because you get old.
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5. Give them assignments.
It's unrealistic to expect a child to be creative all on his own—sometimes it helps to give them a little push. When my parent took us on trips when we were younger, we were expected to keep a travel journal and write down what we did at the end of the day before going to bed (and look what I do now for a living.) I also give my son little creative assignments here and there just to keep that part of his mind in gear—when he was studying the solar system in school, we drew planets on the patio with sidewalk chalk.
6. Make things together—to the best of your ability.
Demonstrating the joy of getting your hands dirty and tackling a project—even when it would be easier to outsource it to Ye Olde Amazon—can make an impression on a kid. So while I am no great baker, every Valentine's Day my husband and I make these treats with my son. It barely counts as cooking and it makes a glorious mess, but we're all together doing a project—which is a lot more fun than just grabbing some cookies off the shelf at the store.
Ideally by rethinking what it means to be creative as a parent, your kid will grow up to realize that creativity takes many forms and doesn't need to be a formal endeavor or one reserved for virtuosos, and that just taking a little time to explore and think artistically are small journeys worth taking.