By Bernadette Noll
We want our kids to be creative and so we buy them all kinds of craft kits and maker kits. It’s true these kits are designed to help our kids create, but they are not designed to encourage our kids’ creativity. Usually the kits are designed to make one thing and one thing only, with implicit instructions on how to do so. This is fine if you want to make one thing and one thing only, but why teach our children to merely assemble a product when we can teach them to dream up something unique?
How then can we provide our kids a make/craft experience that will truly foster creativity? What if we’re not creative ourselves? How can we allow them to interpret the materials using their own ideas and ingenuity without getting in their way? It’s easy really. Way easier than trying to control it! And when we get out of their way we will be amazed at what they come up with.
To get you and your family started, here are four simple steps for fostering creativity in your house or classroom:
1. Have simple tools handy. If we give them the tools, they will build stuff. To get them started on many projects have a small “maker” tool box handy. This can be kept in a cigar box or other small box that is easy to grab. The easier it is to grab the tools, the more likely it is they will be used and the easier it is to clean up! Some basic ideas: glue, decent scissors, a hole punch, a large-eye plastic sewing needle, and a glue gun if you are working with older kids.
2. Provide the materials. Put an assortment of materials in a box and give it to a child. The container will make it feel like a kit, but the materials inside will get them pondering all the possibilities as seen through their own brilliant imaginations. It is said that childhood is the time our imaginations are the most vivid, and if we don’t use our imaginations then, we never will. We can foster imagination by staying away from instructions and instead providing open-ended materials that will allow their minds to wander. Some ideas for your creativity box: fabric sample book, wall-paper sample book, sheet protectors, colored cardstock or scrapbook paper, a ball of string or yarn, cut-up pieces of corrugated cardboard, burlap, buttons, chop sticks or kabob sticks, embroidery floss (I recommend the pearl style floss that can’t be separated and is easier for little hands to work with) and some type of simple fasteners such as brads. All of these things and more can be found at Austin Creative Reuse for less than $2.00 total! If you’d rather stay at home, search around for items you could use such as scraps of denim, magazines, the plastic coated postcard mailers, snaps cut from a discarded garment, old keys, or items pulled from the recycling bin.
3. Let go of the outcome. If you have an outcome in mind, feel free to offer it as a serving suggestion but then step back and let your child go wild. If you really can’t let go of the outcome, sit down and make it yourself but stay away from dictating your child’s project. By sitting down next to them and working on your own stuff, your child will be inspired by both your ideas and your own desire to create.
4. Have fun. If you can’t let go, walk away. If you’re not finding it fun, walk away. Creativity should be fun, not stressful so do whatever it takes to set yourselves up for success. Work outside if the mess makes you wiggy. Cover the table with a drop cloth if you can’t take your eyes off the glue dripping out of the bottle. Close the door if you feel triggered by the chaos. Whatever you do, keep it fun.
Make a field trip to the Austin Creative Reuse Center the first step in your family’s road to creativity! Come solo or bring the kids. You’ll be amazed at what you find. If you need ideas for projects or materials, just ask! Both the employees and customers at Austin Creative Reuse are happy to share ideas and inspiration. Check out the website for hours and project inspiration: http://www.austincreativereuse.org
Bernadette Noll is a writer, maker, mother and the education outreach coordinator for Austin Creative Reuse. If you have questions about projects or ways to bring Austin Creative Reuse into your classroom or school, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org