Encouraging Young Children's Creativity

Posted by Loriann Signori on 1/30/20 2:15 PM

Young children are ripe with curiosity, the key element to creativity. At Lowell, we believe that creativity is a way of thinking, and we encourage our young artists to explore their personal ideas through the arts. Projects are open-ended, rather than pre-determined.

Sometimes students learn a technique, such as how to manipulate clay to make a pinch pot or how to use a palette to mix colors. Such learning is always followed by work time that gives students choice. As part of the process, we ask children to consider how they can use their new-found knowledge in novel and exciting ways, and we explore answers to our favorite question, “What happens if…?”

As parents, you might be wondering how you can encourage your children’s creativity at home. There are so many ways! Here are a few.

Set aside a space for making.

In an easy-to-access place set up a small table and fill an art box with the tools to create—white and colored papers, glue, scissors, fabric scraps, yarn, a stapler, a paper punch, clay or Sculpey, and recyclables. Small objects like corks and Altoid boxes are great, as are egg cartons, plastic bottle lids, toilet paper rolls, fabric scraps, cereal boxes, and old toys.

It is important for your children to have a dedicated space for their work—a place where their creative brains can turn on. They will be much more likely to sit down to do a project if there is space and the materials are out and ready to go.

Child Drawing

Stock photo ID: 522720301 | WeronikaH

How to respond when your child says, “I don’t know what to make.”

Direct your child’s attention to something more concrete. I usually ask my students what they did over the weekend or what they see out the windows. If you get your child talking about something interesting to them, they will usually find their way to what they want to make.

In our studio, materials are easily accessible to the students, so I encourage them to browse through the materials for inspiration. I might prompt them by asking, “What could you do with that piece of fabric?” or “How many things can you make out of that pipe cleaner?”

Be a role model.

Model what it means to be creative by sitting down and doing projects with your child. While you work together, ask your child about the choices they are making and what they are wondering about. If you get stuck, share that fact and ask for your child’s input. Collaboration is another form of inspiration!  

Look for inspiration in poetry or music.

Read poetry or listen to music with your child. Your child will start to visualize what they hear—a great starting point for a new project!

At the Museum

Stock photo ID: 1540375697 | Iakov Filimonov

Visit the many museums we have in the Washington DC and Baltimore areas.

You don’t have to go to an art museum—dinosaurs and airplanes and carnivorous plants spark as many ideas as paintings and sculptures!  When you are out and about on the Mall, pop into more than one museum—go see the planes at the Air and Space Museum and then check out the Calder mobile hanging in the East Wing of the National Gallery. Stroll through the Botanic Garden and then go to look at Georgia O’Keefe’s flower paintings in the East Wing of the National Gallery or the Chinese ink drawings of flowers at the National Museum of Asian Art.

  • When you do go to look at art, be sure to take a few minutes to stop and look at the art. You don’t really see the work if you are just walking by. When I take my students to museums, I encourage them to take a seat and spend some time looking. At the National Gallery there are places where students can lie down and look up. After a time, I ask them what they see. I had one student who, after taking time to soak it all in, said that he wished the museum was his home. When I asked him to tell me more, he said it wasn’t the art, it was the way that everything was organized.
  • I like to share stories with my students about the art they see. Sometimes, I will tell them about an artist before we go. Other times, I wait to see what work interests them. When we get back to the classroom, I find a book or a story about the art or artist that will deepen their interest.

How to respond when your child shows you their art.

Allow children to making their artistic discoveries without evaluating, comparing, correcting, or projecting yourself into their art.

  • Next time your child shows you what they’ve made, smile and say nothing, at first. This creates an opening for your child to talk. It also gives you time to reflect on what you are going to say.
  • Children’s early artwork is often non-representational. Instead of exclaiming “It’s beautiful!” ask questions like “What is the story of this piece?” “What were you thinking about when you painted this?” “What is the title of this painting?” You will be surprised how much they have to say. Their world is so much bigger than ours.  
  • When your child’s work becomes representational you may simply describe what you see. For example, “Wow, that looks like a sunny day! Tell me more about what happened that day” or “I see a story about superheroes…what exactly are the heroes doing? Tell me the story.”

After you have made your original comment your young artist may have questions or comments of his/her own. Your child may or may not respond directly to your remarks, but you can follow their lead and what you know about them to keep the conversation going.

Show your children that you value what they make.

Have a public place where you display your child’s art. Buy one or two plastic box frames and rotate what goes on display “in the gallery.” Or, begin to keep a portfolio or a small box with selected pieces. I know you can’t keep everything, so enlist your young artist in choosing what should be kept!

Read more about creativity in “The Importance of Maker Empowerment,” by Steve Morris.


Title Image: ID 133447612 © Nonthawan Pisessith | Dreamstime.com

Looking for a school for your child?

Lowell School is an independent school in the Colonial Village neighborhood of Washington, DC, that offers Pre-Primary, Primary, and Middle School programs. It offers a rigorous and hands-on curriculum that nurtures each child’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, and supports the development of individual voice and self-reliance. For more information, please call 202-577-2000, email admissions@lowellschool.org, or follow Lowell on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Topics: Teaching & Learning, Family Activities

Loriann Signori

Written by Loriann Signori

Loriann earned her BFA from Swain School of Design and holds an MFA from American University. Trained in the Reggio Emilia approach, Montessori education, and the concepts of Mel Levine’s All Kinds of Minds, Loriann has been teaching for more than 40 years. In addition, she is a professional artist who has gained national recognition and is in the master’s circle of the International Association of Pastel Societies and the Pastel Society of America. She is an exhibiting member of American Women Artists with a studio in Silver Spring, MD. She is represented by the Warm Springs Gallery in Virginia and Corvin Art on Artsy. Loriann teaches adult pastel workshops all over the US. In her spare time she is a cat trainer. She joined the Lowell faculty in 1996.