Why Creativity Matters for Kids

By Clark Burbidge

The importance of creativity in our lives has been supported by study after study, but in our current public school system, the curriculum rarely supports creative thinking in our children. Too often, we find standards that are driven by tests, or by the desire to deliver curriculum in the most economical way. Such efforts do not train our children to think; rather, they teach memorization without meaning and regurgitation on demand, without understanding.

Measuring students’ skills by using a grading scale, while critical in schools, does not take into account the full spectrum of learning development necessary for our children to achieve success in many aspects of their lives. By taking our children away from art, music, performance, and other creative offerings that historically round out primary education, we are sliding ever more toward teaching what the answer is, rather than why the answer is important and how to get there. And as a result, our children are losing touch with the actual beauty of life on this planet.

Fostering creativity in children builds confidence, self-esteem, understanding, empathy, and emotional health. And if they aren’t getting it in the classroom, we parents must provide it ourselves. Below are a few great ways to help foster your child’s creativity outside the classroom environment—beyond art and craft projects.

Start a family book club. Reading with our kids is a great way to develop imagination. Take it a step further by spending time talking about the book afterwards. To avoid this feeling like just another homework assignment, start with an informal dinner conversation, asking questions like, what was the motive of the main character? Did he make a morally right decision? What would you have done in that situation? Help your kids look at the story from different angles and think of new possible outcomes.

Start a family blog. Creative writing can help improve a child’s vocabulary, as well as his creative muscles. A blog can be a great medium for a fiction series (like, what if we lived in space?) or to explore a topic your child is interested in, like cooking or science.

Take advantage of YouTube. There are a great many educational shows on YouTube and some of them are terrific—like TED’s Education channel. So many subjects are left out of traditional education these days. Discussing them will expand your child’s view of the world, and may even lead to a new passion! Ask your child what her favorite building is and why (maybe you have a budding architect on your hands), or her favorite scene in a TV show (maybe she’d like screenwriting), or favorite magazine (journalism). If you have middle- or high schoolers, discussions about social interactions and problem solving will develop creative and critical thinking skills and help them work out social interaction strategies.

You don’t need to be an expert in any of these things. Just get started—from wherever you and your child happen to be. Don’t overlook simple opportunities like museum exhibits, city festivals, and other cultural events. Then, make these creative interactions a regular part of your family life. That’s when the miracles will begin!

Photograph by Lotus Carroll via Creative Commons.

What Kids Really Gain from Arts Education: One Mom’s Personal Reflection

By Lela Nargi

It’s a late evening in early December and I’m sitting with my tween daughter in a stiflingly heated, baldly lit, packed-to-the gills auditorium near Coney Island, waiting for Mark Twain middle school’s winter concert to begin.  We’ve come out to see a friend of my daughter’s sing with her 7th grade choral class. It promises to be a long night, with three grades’ worth of choral performances, three of band, three of orchestra, and a few extras thrown in for good measure. But I’m used to these sorts of engagements. As the parent of a kid who’s been lucky enough to attend public schools that vigorously buck the current trend of defunding arts programs, I’ve been sitting in on biannual music, dance, drama, photography, and broader “talent” shows since my daughter was in Pre-K. I hardly give the enterprise any thought.

Arts education has been a big educational talking point for years, but possibly never more than since the advent of the test-driven Common Core curriculum. As across the country the arts have been cast aside in favor of reading comprehension and STEM subjects—as well as the high-stakes exams that supposedly determine a child’s competency in them—the findings of multiple studies have been invoked to champion the ability of painting, drumming, ballroom dancing, playwriting, to enhance creativity, fine motor skills, and language development in our kids—with even more significant and lasting boons for low-income children.  Many parents with kids who are painting, drumming, dancing, and playwriting through school, both where I live in Brooklyn and elsewhere, accept these benefits as a given. But they’re not what are on my mind as the lights in the auditorium dim and the first orchestral group streams onto the Mark Twain stage.

The students are wearing the customary on-stage uniform of white shirts and black bottoms. They march purposefully out from the wings in a steady and orderly manner, delicately carrying their instruments. They quietly find their seats, set their music on their stands, and follow along with their section leaders in tuning their instruments. When Jamie Baumgardt, Mark Twain’s strings teacher, appears on stage they stand, then await her cue to sit again. As anyone who’s ever watched an orchestra knows, this is business as usual. But if you’ve ever spent any time with a large group of rabid tweens and teens, you know how exceptional this sort of behavior is.

And if you’re an educator, you know it even more acutely. I’ve listened to my sister-in-law, a 20-year veteran of elementary school classrooms, bemoan the mounting inability of her students to sit still and focus. She chalks it up to the use of smartphones and tablets, devices that encourage them to eschew human interaction and reward them for making fast, unconsidered decisions. For years, my husband taught literature to community college students and every night came home with frustrated stories of kids who didn’t know how to behave in his classroom: truly didn’t know they shouldn’t text and take phone calls, didn’t know they shouldn’t gobble sandwiches and bags of candy, didn’t know they shouldn’t listen to music through one headphone as he led them (or attempted to lead them) in discussions of Kafka and Chinua Achebe. Children are losing their understanding of basic courtesy and in the process, are becoming ever more removed from their peers and larger society. With this loss, life becomes less pleasant and more challenging for all of us. Because the loss is palpable everywhere we go. Think of the people texting through movies. Refusing to let you pass as you haul heavy grocery bags down the sidewalk. Shoving you aside to get onto the subway car first.

And this is what I’m thinking about as the strings students finish their performance, again await Ms. Baumgardt’s cue to rise, and quickly, silently take their bows and leave the stage. An orchestra has many governing rules. To survive and thrive in this setting, an orchestra member not only has to know them, she has to tacitly agree to follow them. As these rules govern how members of an orchestra treat their leaders, their equals, and the audience that has come out to see them—in addition to expectations for their own personal responsibility to practice—an orchestra, quite simply, offers a blueprint for how to behave in a society.

“My music students learn professionalism and that, regardless of the context of the setting, there are times and places to be professional,” Ms. Baumgardt tells me. “Running around in the park you can be kids and throw Frisbees. But in a professional setting there are expectations. What values should musicians have that translate to the rest of their lives?” Plenty. Do we want our children to be able to make eye contact with friends and strangers as they politely converse with them? Do we want them to be able to show empathy for others, both locally and globally? Do we want them to understand the positive influence of their hard work, not only on their own development, but on the achievements of an affiliated group? Thanks to the efforts of Ms. Baumgardt and other teachers of music, dance, drama, and plastic arts such as sculpture and drawing, they’re getting an excellent footing. “I show them that being committed leads to success, and that can make you feel great about yourself,” says Ms. Baumgardt. “But it’s also about the bigger picture. The efforts they contribute, in the long run, are going to make everyone successful.”

In some cases, that even includes their own parents. As my daughter’s friend takes the stage with her fellow singers, a dad sitting in front of me becomes animated. After snapping photos with his stage-obscuring iPad, he begins to wave his arms over his head, trying to get his kid’s attention. She ignores him. He tries again. And again. She finally acknowledges him with the meager-est of nods. By behaving professionally, as she’s been taught, she’s given her own father a subtle clue about how to behave with professionalism and courtesy. Hopefully, that tiny trend will radiate.

The very fact that my daughter and I are here tonight is proof that the lesson transcends beyond the classroom and the stage for kids, too. My daughter has come out to show support for a friend, just as this friend came out to support her a week earlier, when my daughter danced in a performance of The Nutcracker. The older they get, and the more serious about their various artistic pursuits, the more supportive they become for each other. Empathy (in the plastic arts, critiques would be miserable without empathy) is built right into the framework.

And empathy—along with discipline, listening skills, manners, the ability to articulate and to work as a team—will serve these kids whether or not they eventually choose careers in any arts-driven field. Sarah, a violinist in Ms. Baumgardt’s 8th grade ensemble, wants to be a doctor—and feels the emotional connection she’s developed to music will help her have an emotional connection to her future patients. Tricia, an 8th grade violist, thinks teamwork and intuition are the two lessons she’s learned from music that will be most valuable to her possible future career as a children’s dentist. Ultimately, the goal of arts education is not to churn out professional artists. As Mark Twain’s principal, Karen Ditolla, puts it so succinctly, “By helping children learn these crafts, we’re helping them grow as people.” There isn’t any goal finer.

Photograph from the George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA, #LC-B2-3849-6

6 Activities for Super Creative Kids

by Activity Rocket

Looking for after school enrichment for your kids? Creative activities benefit a kid’s communication, social, and cognitive skills–in addition to being just plain fun!

via woodleywonderworks
via woodleywonderworks

If you’re looking for something beyond the typical art class, try some of the following activities to get their creative juices flowing!

1. Jewelry making
Was your child into the Rainbow Loom trend? Let them take those skills to the next level with jewelry-making classes! Kids develop their creativity and fine motor skills as they use techniques like beading and weaving to create their very own bracelets, necklaces and earrings. And what’s cooler than art you can wear?

 2. Drama
Does your child need an outlet for his big and bubbly personality? Drama lets kids express themselves onstage while also teaching discipline and teamwork. Options range from Shakespeare to improvisation to musical theatre.

 3. Animation
Have a budding artist on your hands? Let your child take his art off the page! Animation is a fun way to combine visual arts and technology. Your child can choose between two-dimensional animation or claymation.

4. Creative writing
Words can create just as beautiful of a work of art as paint and a paintbrush. Kids can explore their own literary creativity through poetry, playwriting, or blogging!

 5. DJ
Is your kid musical, but looking for something different from the typical piano or guitar lessons? Have her try her hands at the turntables! Kids can explore their creativity as they scratch, mix and create their own songs!

6. STEM/engineering
While often thought of as the antithesis to the arts, STEM—which stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics—promotes creativity in problem solving and design. Help your kid discover the fun in science with classes like robotics, LEGOs, and even aerospace engineering!

Interested in signing up for one of these activities but don’t know where to start? Head over to ActivityRocket.com, the number one stop for kids’ classes, camps and sports to find and register for any of these activities, among many more!

5 Fun Winter Crafts for Kids

With kids spending a lot more time indoors during the dreary winter months, be sure to arm yourself and your sitter or nanny with a few fun DIY art projects to keep them occupied and entertained. Check out these five creative projects that are sure to keep everyone happy.


5 Fun Winter Crafts for Kids

1. Better than Play Doh
Why not whip up a batch of new play dough or goop for your kids to knead, mold and shape to their hearts’ content? Take your pick from one of these cool sensory play recipes that are sure to please. Whether it’s Peppermint Play Dohs, gold glitter goop or any of the others we’ve pinned to our Pinterest Board Crafts for Kids, you can’t go wrong. The recipes are quick and easy and truly can be rainy day lifesavers.

Play Doh via Raechel Myers
via Raechel Myers

2. Easy Stitch Cards
Try this not too easy, not too hard sewing project that works well for 4-9 year olds. It’s a budget-friendly craft that you can create with materials you likely have on hand or can easily find at any craft store. Thanks to Mini eco for proving the instructions AND free printable cards. Download the cards and print on colored card stock. She used orange, pink and yellow, but feel free to use your child’s favorites.

To make your sewing cards you’ll also need a hole punch, yarn, a blunt needle and a button or bead to tie at the end of the yarn as a stopper. Instructions via the blogger:

1) Simply print pdfs and cut out. Pinking shears can be used for extra flare.
2) Punch holes out (as pictured)
3) Have you child lace the yarn through the holes.

Sewing Cards via Mini Eco
via Mini Eco

3. Shimmery Snow Paint
Kids love a new art material and this one doubles as a fantastic sensory material. Plus, it’s perfect for winter. There are lots of recipes out there for paint that looks like snow, but this one tops the list for the most shimmery, realistic looking flurries. For the best results, refrigerate the shaving cream and glue overnight then let it warm up for about 10 minutes the counter before using.

Recipe via Growing a Jeweled Rose. You’ll need the following materials: shaving cream, white school glue, peppermint extractiridescent glitter or buffalo snow.

Mix equal parts of glue and shaving cream in a bowl – you can eyeball the amounts. Sprinkle in as much glitter or buffalo snow as you like. Add a few drops of peppermint extract and mix. You can add more glitter, if need be.

It’s fun for kids to use their new paint to create wintery scenes filled with snowmen. Colored construction paper works well as a background.

Shivery Snow Paint via Growing a Jeweled Rose
via Growing a Jeweled Rose

4. Paper House
This really cute paper house was created by the ingenious blogger at Say Yes to Hoboken as something to do with all of the cardboard shipping boxes that had piled up at her house after a bout of online shopping. With the holidays just past, you’re sure to have a few lying around, too.

Choose a box that’s a good size and shape for a house, a barn, a school, or any other structure your child would like to create, and follow the instructions provided at Say Yes to Hoboken. All you’ll need is paper, glue, scissors and a Sharpie. The rainbow shingles are the best part!

Cardboard House via Say Yes to Hoboken
via Say Yes to Hoboken

5. Bottle Cap Stamps
Create your own stamps with the bottle caps from water or juice bottles and small foam stickers. We can thank Vanessa’s Values for the idea and for helping us to keep our kids entertained by merely visiting the recycling bin for bottle caps and the dollar store for a handful of stickers. Simply glue stickers to the tops of the caps and use either a stamp pad or paint for the ink. Kids, little and big, will have a ball creating all sorts of project with their stamps – posters, cards, signs, etc.

Bottle Cap Stamps via Vanessa's Values
via Vanessa’s Values


Search for crafty babysitters at www.UrbanSitter.com.