A Parent’s Manifesto for Creativity

by Matthew Worwood

We typically connect a discussion about creativity to the fine arts; for example, as parents, we might talk about our child’s drawing or painting skills or other art-based activities where they demonstrate talent or interest.

Another way we consider creativity is through the imaginative approach our children take to play.

However, this represents only some aspects of the discussion on creativity. As we expand beyond the usual stereotypes and toward a more scholarly perspective, research practitioners discuss creativity as actions that supports the production of new and useful outcomes as viewed within a social context [1]. This definition supports the majority of creativity research, and it is a perspective that connects creativity to nearly every aspect of life and industry; it is a generic attribute that propels our society forward by producing innovations that take us to the moon and beyond.

Many of us are engaged in some form of creativity, even when we don’t realize it. So, parent conversations about highly talented children in computer programming, problem-solving, and mathematics can also be about creativity – particularly when a child demonstrates proficiencies beyond their peers.

As children get older, they begin to focus on specific fields of interest, and as they increase their skills and knowledge in that field, they can produce more noticeable outcomes for others. As they progress further in their career and develop expertise in specific areas, they can then go on to create works that improve the workplace, change industries, support cures for life-changing diseases, and address the challenges of climate change.

Creativity and talent scholar Jonathan Plucker often describes creativity as mixing old stuff with other old stuff to make new stuff. It’s that simple, and there are actions we can take as parents to support the continued development of creativity at home. That’s why parents should prioritize activities that similarly nurture creativity in a way we often prioritize activities that support reading, mathematics, and even sports.

Plucker’s definition also reminds us about the importance of education. To use old stuff, you need to know old stuff, and that’s why schooling is critical for many forms of creativity. Exposing children to new and quality information through TV, books, and outings is one thing parents can do as part of an effort that expands a child’s knowledge base at home.

Children also need opportunities to identify and explore innate interests and investigate their curiosity through more exploration and play. This wasn’t so much of an issue when I grew up, but today these activities compete with on-demand content and games on tablet devices. Technology can and should play a role in a child’s developmental experiences, but we must also facilitate experiences outside technology use.

Particular ways of thinking are also known to support creativity; for example, we know that the capacity to generate lots of ideas is helpful for creativity, and we know that there are things we do that can nurture or hinder that behavior in children. We also know that our response to incidents of failure, how we respond to ambiguity, and our ability to view things from multiple perspectives all influence creative behavior later in life.

New technology is also changing how we utilize digital tools during the creative process, and every young child will likely use various types of generative AI when designing and developing new outcomes in the future.

Although there isn’t a proven formula, we should collectively set a goal to raise highly creative kids who can engage empathy, think ethically, and pursue solutions to big world problems.

As parents, we must learn how to curate a home environment conducive to childhood creativity in an effort to accomplish this goal.

Yes, it is much easier said than done. I am just as much of a victim of today’s parenting culture, which is full of highly structured activities that take up significant time; the high-stakes sports routines and extracurricular programs have turned too many of us into part-time evening Uber drivers and personalized coaches. We are exhausted at the end of the day. 

Still, there are small things we can do to promote creativity that won’t necessarily disrupt or radically change how we approach our preferred parenting styles. This manifesto introduces eight actions that nurture creativity at home.

  1. We should engage our children with nature, even in something as simple as a monthly nature walk to observe the changing seasons or look for insects.
  2. We should resist the temptation to answer every question that arises from curiosity and instead respond with a question so our children can generate possible answers for themselves. 
  3.  We should facilitate new experiences by co-viewing a docuseries, exposing them to a new book, or taking them to local museums or cultural events.
  4. We should promote educational experiences and reduce game time and poor-quality videos when giving our child access to technology.
  5. We should take on incidents of failure by focusing on the emotion our child feels when they experience an incident of failure. 
  6. We should challenge our children to assume another perspective when they experience a disagreement.
  7. We should reflect on our preferences for sports and extracurricular activities and make sure we are equally committed to the interests expressed by our children.
  8. We should facilitate more opportunities in the home environment for traditional play absent technology. 

Finally, one of the best ways to promote creativity at home is to model creative behavior when parenting. We use it daily, so let’s get better at sharing and celebrating it with the family. 

You can learn more about these actions in the book, “Raising Highly Creative Adults: 8 Tips for Early Years Parenting. 

[1] Plucker, J., Beghetto, R., & Dow, G. (2004). Why Isn’t Creativity More Important to Educational Psychologists? Potential, Pitfalls, and Future Directions in Creativity Research. Educational Psychologist, 39, 83-96.