Bits & Bytes

Nurturing Creativity in Kids

by Jamilah Samian

Photo Courtesy of Mytudut

What we say or do has far-reaching consequences on the ability of our kids to think and act creatively

Legend has it that ancient Singapore, or Temasek as it was then called, was once invaded by shoals of todak or swordfish. The sea creatures became such a menace that the King ordered his subjects to do away with them. On the appointed day, the brave people of the island descended upon its shores, keen to wipe out the todak once and for all. But it didn’t take them long to realize they were no match for the fishes. One by one the men fell as the agile todak pierced them with their razor sharp snouts. At that moment, a young boy named Hang Nadim came up with a suggestion: Instead of human shields, why not place banana trunks along the beach to snare the fishes? This turned out to be a brilliant idea! The swordfishes’ snouts were trapped and scores of lives were spared.

The story of Hang Nadim was but one of many that illustrate what happens when children are allowed to think creatively. Some of these kids went on to become great inventors. My guess is that, these idea generators had someone, quite likely a parent or guardian, who had backed them up, fired up their imagination and kept the creative juices flowing in them. It would be difficult to imagine life today without the many designs that are the fruits of labour of people who had concocted exceptional ideas. From mobile phones to the Internet to laser surgery, these inventions had made great improvements in our daily lives. Throughout the ages, creativity has turned impossibilities into realities. Even in times of war, it is the human trait of creativity that may have the last word on who wins or loses. Had someone not thought of the Trojan Horse, the nearly vanquished Greeks might not have conquered the Trojans and made history!

What is creativity anyway? Quite simply, creativity is bringing something new into being. While the debate rages on among psychologists whether creativity is something you are born with or is influenced by the environment, I believe there is much that we parents can do to nurture our children’s creativity. To this end, I would like to suggest that you:

– Entertain your child’s curiosity. Creativity thrives on curiosity. The more you encourage your child’s curiosity, the more creative he gets. Consider George de Mestral, the inventor of Velcro. In the early 1900s, he was a young boy who loved the outdoors and inventing. In fact, his creative streak won him his first patent for a toy plane at the tender age of 12. Each time after his outing with his dog, George was annoyed by the Burdock seeds (a prickly fauna) that stuck to his hunting pants and dog’s fur as it took him hours to remove them. George examined the seeds under the microscope and noticed that each seed had hundreds of tiny hooks that locked themselves onto the fabric of his pants or his dog’s fur. This gave him the germ of an idea and years after much experimenting, Velcro, the hook & loop fastener, was born.

– Tell your child that creativity has numerous forms. Because the media has a tendency to refer to certain expressions of artistic pursuits like painting, drawing, acting and dancing as forms of creativity, a child may think that he is not creative because he has no interest in any of these areas. This notion may be further reinforced at learning centres when the children who are able to paint or draw better are referred to as “creative”, which may unwittingly suggest that the other children who are not able to paint or draw as well are not creative. Tell your child that these only represent certain forms of creativity, and creativity encompasses a much wider meaning and possibility. In fact, it is the ability to creatively solve problems and overcome difficult situations that will help your child to not only survive but thrive in the long run.

– Encourage your child to think differently. Creativity often involves the ability to think out of the ordinary. It is the courage of those who dared to think in contrasting ways that has continually made a lasting impact to human lives. Children by nature are born creative. However, to remain creative, they need constant motivation. This is because, creativity involves two processes i.e. thinking and producing. All you have to do is to provide a safe environment for this to happen. For example, if you see your child stacking up a set of wooden blocks horizontally again and again, ask him, ”Is there a way to arrange them another way?”

– Be prepared to invest. Your child might need your help to provide the resources to turn his ideas into reality. For this to occur, you might have to set aside your time and money. Think of the time and money that you incur as an investment rather than cost. Even if things don’t work out as expected, assure your child that it’s okay … he would have learnt something new along the way.

I must tell you, however, that the story of Hang Nadim had a cruel twist to it. His smart thinking made him a subject of both admiration and envy in the island. One day, someone convinced His Majesty that the boy will be a threat to his influence and power. In the end, Hang Nadim was ordered thrown into the sea. While we parents may not treat our children the way the King did, some of us, who have been conditioned to think that parents always know better, may feel threatened with the unconventional thinking that they might come up with. We may even feel defensive or ruffled if we find ourselves unable to respond adequately to our children’s queries and their many questions of “Why”. The thing is, children have to learn that parents do not have the answers to everything. To keep the creative strain in your child alive and well, do not ridicule or laugh at him when he conceives thoughts that seem crazy or out of this world. Without your timely support and understanding, your child’s creative aspirations may remain just that – an ignored figment of his imagination that will soon fade into nothingness and never see the light of day.

Published in Parenthood magazine, September 2007 issue

About Jamilah Samian

Jamilah has written 536 articles.

Jamilah Samian is an author and speaker.

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