10 Simple Ways to Raise Creative Kids

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda


Would you like to raise your children to be their most creative selves, but could use a little help on getting from here to there? The path to creative thinking is twisty and murky, with few signposts and plentiful detours, but there are some landmarks that can help us find our way.

Here are 10 simple ways to raise creative children:

  1. Remember that mistakes are good.
    • Stanford researcher and author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Carol Dweck, shares that children who are afraid of failure are less likely to think creatively. If your child acts disappointed at making a mistake, try saying something like, “what can we do to change this outcome?” or “how could you do this again?” I like how my friend and colleague Ben Grossman-Kahn of The Nordstrom Innovation Lab calls this Failing Forward, or looking at mistakes as opportunities for growth rather than failures.
  2. Embrace a good mess.
    • Most of us like a clean space and feel overwhelmed when messes get out-of-hand. However, when kids are in their creative element, messes can quickly develop. The next time your child asks to paint or wants to get everything out of a supply bin, make room for it (and/or take it outside). You might have to contend with a mess, but the creative benefits will surpass this temporary inconvenience.
  3. Be mindful when you praise.
    • We’ve all heard a lot about how praise can hinder a child’s independent thinking. In Alfie Kohn’s book, Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes, he talks about how rewards succeed at motivating people to….earn more rewards. The problem with praise is that it can strip a child from searching for his own internal motivations. This isn’t to say that all praise is bad, but next time you’re tempted to praise, try saying something objective such as, “I see that you used a lot of different colors in that painting,” or “You’re working really hard on that math problem.”
  4. Be open-minded.
    • Offer your child choices as a way to encourage independent thinking. You may not be in the habit of eating dinner for breakfast, but if your child says she wants to eat pasta before heading off to school, make room for that. If she wants to help in the kitchen, try turning your kitchen into a science lab and give her open access to a handful of ingredients and kitchen tools.
  5. Model creativity.
    • What’s your creative outlet? Where do you enjoy putting your creative energy? Cooking, singing, gardening, drawing, dancing? Children who watch their parents engage in creative activities are more likely to embrace these activities themselves. If it’s been a while since you’ve done something creative, think about what made you happy in your own childhood and spend half an hour doing that activity with your child. How did it feel? Could you try it again tomorrow? And the next day?
  6. Step back.
    • This may seem to contradict #5 a bit, but it’s important to remember that this is all about striking a balance. If a child feels like she’s constantly under surveillance, she may be less likely to take risks, which would diminish her creativity. If you encourage autonomy, you’ll see your child’s imagination bloom. The next time your child is engaged in quiet play, drawing, tinkering, or writing, refrain from jumping in with a comment like “what are you drawing?” This will only pull him out of the zone. Instead, make yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy a moment to yourself!
  7. Set aside creativity time.
    • This can be hard, especially for working parents, but children need unstructured time to imagine, build, experiment, and explore. It could be half an hour after dinner, time in bed before reading a book, or an hour of simply unstructured time. Look at your schedule and make sure that there’s time set aside for this.
  8. Get back to the basics.
    • Toys and social networking are fun, and definitely have their place, but they don’t build creative thinkers the way sticks, tubes, office supplies, sand, circuits, magnets, and water do. Take a quick inventory of where your kids spend their free time. What do they use the most? Can you swap a close-ended object or activity with an open-ended one?
  9. Reduce screen time.
    • It can be hard for some families to remove screen time altogether, but we can all make an effort to spend less time in front of the screen. Time spent watching videos or cartoons could be spent drawing, making a robot, or setting up an obstacle course. What could you do to reduce screen time?
  10. What other ideas do you have for raising creative kids?
    • There are so many ways to encourage a child’s creativity, and I’d love to hear what works for YOU! What would you add as the #10 way to raise creative kids?

Rachelle Doorley is a KiwiCo advisor and the publisher of Tinkerlab, a site designed to inspire parents and teachers to raise creative children.

74 Replies to “10 Simple Ways to Raise Creative Kids”

  1. Excellent! I think my parents already knew all this because they raised 4 very creative kids and they are nice too! (one was me!) I was so lucky to have parents like mine. I think most people who are creative automatically foster these methods of parenting, but it is still a great reminder.

    One tip I would have to add: Make sure to point out the little things in life whether it is a beautiful cloud formation, a tiny toad in the garden, a face in wood grain on your door, and more. I’ve always done this with my daughter since day one and at age 5 1/2 she notices even more than me and it is SO Amazing because I know I taught her this and in turn my Father did the same.

    1. That’s a wonderful tip, Melissa. Paying attention to nuance and the little things in life can make a huge difference in how we interpret the world. And isn’t that cool that your daughter’s attention is so highly tuned. This will serve her well in life!

  2. One more thing: Always let your children be involved in what you are doing no matter what kind of mess they make or if they are doing it wrong. They will always remember this time and it shows that you value their ideas and creativity.

    1. Yes, yes, and yes! My daughter has been inventing her own pancake recipes and you can see the pride pop out of her face when the whole family sits down to eat them and guess what ingredients she included. Thank you again!

      1. I agree with you both. I was working on block printing some fabric – great #5 there, doing what I’m interested in and meanwhile modeling creative engagement – and my 3 y.o. son was doing some watercolor painting with a Prang-type watercolor set. I looked over, and he had picked up the entire watercolor set, and was “printing” his paper with it. He made several wonderful images with it, and it was kind of shocking, because my adult mind has edited the “proper” and “improper” way to use art materials – and his hasn’t. You can learn a lot of creative possibilities from kids!

        1. Love that!
          My daughters world changed at age 2. I gave her acrylic paints in her high chair. She started with the paint brush, then a finger, then a hand. She was curious about how the paint felt. 6 months later(dressed in the cutest 4th of July outfit/ Raggetty Anne) I turned the corner to find she discovered how fun it was to paint herself from head to toe with bright blue paint. Me, although upset; grabbed the camera and tossed her in the bath fully dressed.

  3. Love this list, Rachelle – such great reminders! I am especially tuned into making sure our day has large blocks of unstructured time, and the “less-is-more” philosophy for toys.

    I would add: Cultivate an environment that supports curiosity – ask questions (kids & parents), wonder out loud, seek out information together, read lots of books, try new things.

  4. Resist the urge to show your children how to color in the lines (read: don’t interfere with his/her creativity and focus on the process, not the final product).

  5. When I was a kid my dad took us on “hunts” through our house for our stuffed animals. He had made me a blunderbuss from PVC and stair hand rail and my brother had a double barrel shotgun from the same materials. The trick was we had to avoid the skunks (for some reason we had a large number of skunks in our toy and stuffed animal collection) and if we got sprayed we had to sit out a round. This imaginative play was wonderful for the full range of ages (7,4, and 1) and kept us laughing uproariously with our dad every time he made the sound effects for us getting sprayed. The lesson I take from this story that I look forward to passing on to my own children is to get in and play with them, not just to watch them play. Engage their imaginations and marvel at the results. 18 years later this is still one of the best memories of my childhood and always will be.

  6. These are great! I must admit to having trouble with stepping back and allowing mess (even though my house is always a mess so I don’t know why I care!) so I always have to keep those in mind. Thanks for a great post. I’m going to share this one on my Facebook page.

    1. I know, messes are hard for me too. Not because I have a problem with messes exactly, but because the bigger the mess, the more work it is for me to clean up. And time is precious. Who wants to spend time picking up sequins off the floor or scrubbing paint off a table? Taking projects outside helps a lot, and getting a splat mat to put under painting projects, having a vacuum handy, and working in the kitchen or somewhere with an easy-to-wipe floor helps tremendously! Thanks for sharing this, Meryl.

  7. Thank you for the reminder to embrace creativity and some great tips on how to do that. I think, as parents, it’s important to foster our own spirits of playfulness, flexibility and being in the moment, and to remember that the process is usually much more important and valuable than the end product. Melissa brings up a great point about the life-habit of noticing the little things around you. That small but powerful act can do a great deal to promote awareness, curiosity, wonder and joy — all contributors to creativity.

    1. Wonderful, Suz! Being in the moment can be so challenging for parents who have a million things going on (laundry, dishes, bills, etc.), but if we can be present, even if just for a bit, the rewards are so great and in turn it enable us to enjoy the process and be playful. I’m so glad you added your thoughts to the conversation.

  8. I agree with Melissa and believe that #10 should be to point out beauty in nature, in people and in everyday experiences. This will cultivate awareness and model mindfulness and appreciation for the small but important things in life that make us happy.

  9. 10) Head outside!
    There is no greater inspiration than nature, and no better canvas for a child to work on. We should worry less about what sticks and stones might do to our bones and let children build their imaginations with these incomparable ‘toys’.

    1. Getting outside is so good for the soul, and of course it’s wonderful for building creative minds too. You mention the imagination, and isn’t it true that children invent the most incredible ideas from the abstract objects and loose parts they find in nature. Thanks for the reminder, Beth!

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment, Janice! I’m so glad you found me and hope I can continue to deliver great content to your in-box. Off to follow your blog too!

  10. Wonderful post. Might add to offer loose parts for free play time especially outdoors. I am always amazed at how busy my children are with random items that spark creativity.

    With regards to numbers 6-9, I created a cute sign to remind parents to step back at times to allow the children to be creative. You can check it out here http://www.growingplay.com/freeparentplay.html

  11. Play outside! Free play in the outdoors is essential for fostering creativity and imagination–build a fort in the woods together or allow your child to have a special spot somewhere in the outdoor world that she feels is her own. Thank you for the wonderful post! Cheers–Ariella

    1. Yes! Outdoor play is essential, and I think you’re right that having a place outdoors that the child can own is key.With a small outdoor space, this one is hard for me to figure out personally, but it’s always in the front of my mind. Thank you for the reminder, Ariella!

  12. My number 10 is to have the “tools of creativity” available and visible. What I mean by that is to have the crayons, markers, glue, paper, music, boxes, hammers&nails, etc. around. Who knows when a good dance might just bust out? Who knows when you need to pound together something for the fort outside? If those things are available/easily accessible, then you can just go with the creativity.

  13. A mish mash of many things already mentioned, I would have to say, “ask questions.” Living a creative life has alot to do with not being afraid…almost like being comfortable with insecurity. It is an adventurous life.

    So my number 10 would be: Ask QUESTIONS. Let your child answer. Let her tell you why something is beautiful, clever, ugly, sad…

    Some questions I like to ask: How do you think that person (artist, architect, scientist) thought of that? How would you have done it differently? What is your favorite part of the whole thing (song, book, image, building)? I’ll ask anything to help my daughter start to figure out her personal creative process.

    1. Developing a personal creative process and beginning to strengthen creative confidence is key for enabling kids to find their own creativity. Questions are a marvelous way to do that, thank you for sharing your tip Tanya!

  14. I LOVE THIS! Now only if I could, as a parent and a preschool teacher just LET GO completely and forget about the mess. I dream of paint-proofing my art studio with drop cloths and just have a painting fest with my son…whether it be stomping on paper that’s on the ground with painty feet, or flicking paint from our paint brushes onto the paper below in a reckless manner…I so dream about doing this! I try not to be too controlling when it comes to the end product…because I believe it is all about exploration and fun…but I admit…I am guilty sometimes and find that I have to remind myself that it is about the process and NOT the end-product… Thx for this post…excellent advice!

  15. Be a noticer and namer! Notice everything. Ask your kids what they notice. Accept all answers. Be quiet some to leave space for them. Then name everything. Use the correct words, the precise words, the technical words. Explain it with a synonym or an antonym or both. Expect your kids to use those words back to you. If you don’t know the words for something, involve your kids in your effort to learn something new. Do this even when you think your kids are not listening. Pay attention because everything, good or bad or in between, everything is a stage. When you blink it is gone…they are grown!

  16. And.. don’t rule out colouring books. Choose one with simple pictures and, for children who are reticent to draw, add things to the page. Add an indication of the weather, what might be growing in the grass, flying above, crawling on an arm, sitting on a head, hiding behind a rock, etc. Who owns the car, cat, house, etc. ? Begin by modelling this as you both add things to the page. As a retired grade one teacher I can tell you that children are required to draw all through their school years and hopefully they’ve developed some feeling of capability for that.

    1. Great advice Julie. Kids don’t all enjoy creativity in the same way. Some kids may take to building a story or an environment more than depicting the image through color.

  17. I love this list… I read it when you first posted it, but am back reading it again! It totally is resonating with me right now as my younger children turn from babies into toddlers (18-month-old twins) and I am reminded of how important it is to step back, check the praise, etc. etc.

    For #10 I’d probably add: switch up the space to transition into more creativity! For my kids and me, sometimes a room just gets stale after a while. For example, if we’ve been in the living room for an hour after naps, it helps us to set up the easel on the front porch for some painting, instead of doing it in the same space we’ve been in already. This is actually what motivated our recent “feelie goop adventure out on the front porch… which definitely meets the “embrace a good mess” criteria! I was going to do this project in the kitchen, but we’d already been in the kitchen for a while that day so, to the porch it was!

    I just did a post about it: http://www.multiplerealitiesblog.com/2012/08/feelie-goop-on-the-porch.html

    Thanks so much for your amazing inspiration, Rachelle.


  18. Pingback: ¿cómo fomentar la creatividad en los pekes? | mamemi
  19. When my grands are at my house(twice a week) the tv is not turned on until half hour before they leave. WE paint,play doh, water play,rubber stamping,drawing, cooking,chasing the dog!we look at clouds,watch planes overhead. One time I just said out loud that I wondered where the plane was going. I’m thinking Hawaii! The 6. Year old said, to the airport grandma. Well of course! I have such a great time with these wonderful little boys. I am blessed to have them in my life.

    1. What a lovely note Sarita. Taking time to make together builds so many precious moments of quality time. My grandma and I used to read together, they are still some of my fondest memories.

  20. Number 9 is my favorite! And I think for today’s kids, the most critical. Not only do I think TV makes us (and kids) lazy, but it gives them all those ideas that, for example, Phineas and Ferb can do during their summer vacation… and then actually being creative and doing something kids actually CAN do is no longer special.

    1. Little things are the big things, aren’t they? Kids remember that so well, it’s why getting a little messy is so much fun! Hope you joined in the fun Jenny!

  21. This is a really good list. We’re trying to raise creative kids by challenging their little minds and giving them creative challenges.

  22. i love all these suggestions. I’m not artist at all. My 7 years old is always finding something around the house to create. She will make a beautiful piece of artwork out of nothing.

  23. Getting into nature is also a creative engagement. We got hunting for rocks to paint or create miniature gardens with. We also identify the birds by their calls and that works their musical ears. We find fireflies and name then and tell stories about how they came to meet us on this walk on this day.

    1. That’s a great point Mother forever. Nature is one the best places to access wonder and discovery. What a lovely exercise, to listen for and identify bird calls. Great tip. 🙂

  24. I leave a caddy filled with the usual supplies, markers, colored pencils, glue sticks, scissors etc. on the kids table along with paper so it’s always there for when creativity strikes. But I also add little scraps and odd objects I find like feathers, cupcake liners, shells, interesting candy wrappers, foil, pieces of yarn and such. Sure enough, my creative 5 year old finds ways to incorporate them into interesting art projects.

  25. Any specific suggestions about how to dail back TV/screen time once t has become a habit? Our 7-year-old watched no TV until age 3, but over the years we’ve somehow allowed the TV time to creep up to 2 cartoon episodes a day! (I couldn’t agree more about Phineas & Ferb).

  26. Hey Rachelle, I am writing a paper on “raising creative children” and would like to use a quote from your article. However, I couldn’t find your last name to use as my source. Maybe I will just use your first name..?

  27. I think ‘destruction’ is as important as ‘construction’
    In my daughters 9th grade STEM lab; they build and then they test. Popscicle and paper bridges; then they test their strengths. They build robots and then take them back apart for the next class.
    I like to give old appliances to my child. She can take them apart with tools or she can smash them and salvage cool parts for art projects.
    When she was 7 or 8 she repaired the toilet when the handle broke off. She took a string handle from a gift bag and fixed it so that we pulled the string to flush. She collected broken balloons after her birthday party. She made ‘super hero’ costumes for Barbie’s. Inspired by watching: Fantastic Four.
    We do not have tv, cable or internet at home; only cellphone with internet. We do watch DVD’s. She is all A’s and very creative.
    Seeing everyday objects as other things and uses is what inspires us. We love to repurposed. I teach crafts to Senior Citizens. I put out a variety of supplies and they pick and choose. We pick a theme and they get busy….Making a mess inspires me.

  28. Disclaimer: teaching safety is also important. My kiddo mixed some liquid ingredients together as a “science” experiment. I was compelled to explain certain combinations can cause an explosion, chemical burns, flying debris. Ask before trying anything; always read warning labels and research before starting. Dad always said, “make sure you wear your safety glasses.”

  29. I’d add “allow children time to be loud” to the list. This could mean letting them sing a song thats they’ve memorized or made up on their own, laughing hysterically or even just yelling (maybe go outside for that one). I never would have thought that just straight up yelling would be a good thing, until I watched a video my mom made of my girls (ages 1 and 8) laying on the floor mimicing each others body movements and yelling “AAAAHHHH! EEEEEEE! AHHHHHHHHHHHH” at each other. They had a blast, no toys or outside entertainment source necessary. I’m hoping that as they get older and my younger daughter learns how to better communicate , they will spend time together inventing other games all on their own like that.

  30. #10. Send encouraging notes. “Hope your day looks colorful.”
    “Ask a friend what they have created/built/painted/colored this week”
    “Tell someone you like their shoes and why”

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