Creative Childhood: How to Engage Your Kids So They Learn to Think Creatively

Mama Greenest interviews Sonya Shoptaugh, Creative Childhood blogger and Hudson Valley parenting expert

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What are some simple ways parents can facilitate creativity at home?
Accept the premise of their play. If your child comes to you with a blob of play dough on her nose and says, “I’m a clown!” say back, “How do you do, Clown. I’m an elephant.” A circus has been born.

Children invite us into their world of imagination all the time. It is unpredictable. It is not “correct.” It requires rules to be made up as you go along. When we value children’s ingenuity, we strengthen their natural born ability to create. We tell them through our actions their unique way of approaching life is welcome.

Ask children questions. Be curious to know what they think, and suspend your knowledge and correct-o-meter when they answer. Put yourselves in a place of wonderment and really hear their thoughts, their points of view. For example, last fall during a walk through brightly colored foliage, I asked my daughter how she thought the leaves change colors. She had an elaborate theory that involved vitamins from the air landing on the leaves. I asked follow up questions, and listened to her develop a well-articulated theory about fall.

Some parents get concerned — when will my child learn the “real” answer? Learning how to think is vastly more important than learning what to think. My daughter will learn some day (and then probably forget like most of us) how leaves change color in science class. But because I ask and value what she has to say now, she has the opportunity to develop her self-concept as one who has ideas, one who can be a generator of knowledge, not just a consumer of someone else’s facts.

Conversely, what should be avoided?
If a child comes to you with a blob of play dough on his nose and says, “I’m a clown!” Don’t say, “You look silly. Make sure you don’t eat that stuff. I see some on your lip there.” How often do we unknowingly squash our children’s creative impulse? Probably more than we realize.

When we don’t give children the opportunity to be absurd, do things differently than we might, or make mistakes in a safe emotional environment, we take away their chance to develop their own genius.

We — children and adults alike — shun our natural creativity and curiosity when we strive to get the right answer, or say and do what is expected of us in order to not be judged.

How do you stay inspired?
I hang around children. And adults who care about children. Right now my daughter, age four, is designing her own tree house. When I asked her how she wanted to get up to her tree house, she said, “By roller coaster!” Ha! Children give us the courage to venture into the unknown, the delight of the unexpected, and the mandate to experience joy again and again. It is hard not to be inspired by children’s approach to life!

If you could order parents to do one thing and one thing only with their children, what would it be?
Listen to your children with wide open ears and heart. Know they are brilliant just as they are. Allow their brilliance to shine.

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About This Blog

Shannon Gallagher

Shannon Gallagher
Rhinebeck, NY

Dutchess County native Shannon Gallagher is a contributing editor for Hudson Valley Magazine. An erstwhile thrill-seeker, these days she courts disaster of a different variety wrangling a spirited toddler, honing her vegan baking skills, and chasing the ever-elusive work-family balance. She teaches Pilates and does fascial bodywork, and lives in Rhinebeck with Coraline, a cat named Otie, and Sushi the Fish (named, of course, by the toddler).



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