10 Tips for Raising Creative Kids

by Gigi Ross on July 17, 2013

raise creative kids

Have you ever caught yourself telling your kids to color inside the lines? Then today’s post is for YOU. Steph from Hearts and Laserbeams is here to share her awesome tips for raising creative kids.

Read Steph’s Tips

I’ve been itching to write about what creative kids need from their parents for ages, especially since I’ve spent close to three years sharing my home-based design business with my little boy Phil.

I know I’m biased because I’m his mom, but Phil is the coolest, most creative, funny kid you’ll ever meet. I constantly find him imagining scenarios with his cars, where they talk to each other. He looks through books and comes up with stories when he can’t remember the words. He draws, colors, and paints almost every day.

It’s probably a classic tale of making up for my own childhood… I was the artist in my class growing up; I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon. But honestly, I can’t tell you that I was always encouraged to follow the path I’ve taken in life. And that is kind of sad.

If you’re afraid your child will starve as an artist, I’m living proof with some hard work and tenacity, creative kids can grow up into creative adults, and make a living doing what they love.

How can you raise creative kids to their maximum potential? Funny you should ask, because I’ve compiled a list for you. Enjoy!

Encourage Their Efforts

It’s so important to always, always encourage your child’s creative efforts. Even when (especially when) their projects don’t turn out as they’d like – that’s when your job as Creativity Cheerleader should kick in! Make sure they know that they can and should keep trying, and they’ll be happy to put forth the effort again soon.

In 8th grade, I tried to make a tyrannosaurus rex structure out of toothpicks for a papier mache project at school. It completely fell apart the second I tried to add any wet strips of newspaper to it, and I was crushed. If you’ve got any stories like that, share them with your kids, and make sure they know it’s not the end of the art world.

Power Down

If you want creative kids that are engaged in the world around them, (and trust me, you do) you need to turn off the electronics. We’re not living in the dark ages or even Amish Pennsylvania. I’m not asking you to never ever ever give your kid the iPad. But limit it with the voracity that comes from knowing you are increasing their attention span and expanding their abilities to interact with others.

Take it a step further by trying to buy your kids nothing but toys that don’t run on batteries.

Go Outside

When we were kids, my sister and I used to play at a school near our house. The best days were ones where the gardener had been there – piles of grass clippings were our building materials, and we made countless houses for our little plastic Care Bears.

When your creative child’s finished with their iPad time, balance it out with some down time in the backyard.

Take a Field Trip

Find places to go that will inspire creativity with your child. Your field trips can be of the artsy craftsy variety, like going to a museum or local craft fair, or they can be more about getting inspired by the world outside your house. Nature can be great inspiration, and so can a bustling farmers market.

Get Messy

The happiest times in my artsy life are when I get to bust out my paints and just go nuts. Lots of kids feel the same way when it comes to arts and crafts. Take a deep breath and buy those finger paints you’re afraid will mess up your floor. Dress your little ones in old clothes, and put a big, black trash bag down as a tarp. (Or just take them creative kids outside.)

Be Hands Free

Resist the urge. You know the one – when your kids are doing it wrong. And you just want to help!

You’ll help their creativity more if you don’t help. Take the back seat on their art project, and let them take the wheel. Offer guidance as needed, but try as hard as you can to not become a backseat art director.

Teach Them Well

Educating your child about different styles of art is a fabulous way to help them understand that their art has a place on this planet. If your child has ever doubted their abilities as a young artist, make haste for Google Images and do some searches for artists with vastly different styles. Miro, Picasso, and Rothko are great ones to start with, because they hammer home the point that you can be a great artist even if you don’t like to draw realistically.

Do they like cartoons? Take them to the library and find books about Looney Toons’ great Chuck Jones or the original Disney animators.

The key is to expose your creative kids to lots of different kinds of art so they feel like theirs is valid.

Let Them Lead the Way

You want to paint, your kid wants to sculpt with Play-Doh. Keeping things fluid when it comes time for creative activities helps make your kids feel more in control of their artistic destiny, which in turn helps them to get really excited about the art adventures they’re about to embark on. Try to combine your ideas – if your toddler feels like Play-Doh and you feel like painting, why not let them sculpt something that you paint?

Wait, you’re not supposed to paint Play-Doh!

Guys, you’re not listening. There’s no rules in art. That’s what makes it fun. Plus, Play-Doh’s like 4 bucks for 37 colors. Stop trying to make your kids keep all of the colors separate if they’re aching to moosh ‘em all together into something resembling puke green.

Another fun way to let your kids lead? Tell them they’re the art director, and you have to make whatever they tell you. This goes over huge at bath time, where Phil tells me all of the things I should draw on the walls for him with the tub crayons.

Imagine and Create Together

I’m really lucky to be able to run my art & design business from my home office; I have opportunities to encourage my son Phil’s creativity all day long. One of the best things ever is when I’m working on inking an illustration project, and he insists I make a photocopy of it immediately so he can color it. I make a big deal about excitedly Xeroxing it immediately for him. Not only are those art collaborations fun bonding moments, but they give him a strong validating sense that his creative contribution is enthusiastically welcome.

Find a creative project you and your kid can do together, where you’re both responsible for different parts. Maybe write a story, where you write the words and they draw the pictures!

When collaborating on a project, you may run into tears of frustration because your child feels like they can’t do something as well as you. Creativity Cheerleader, it’s your job to explain to them that it took you years and years to do your art the way you do, and that theirs is really great.

Give Them Some Space

Last year, I picked up a couple of basic Lack tables from Ikea for Phil so he’d have space to color in the office. Yesterday while he was coloring, he took some of the truck stickers that came with his coloring book and stuck ‘em all over those tables.

It looks really lame, but I’m going to leave it. That’s Phil making his mark on his art space.

This isn’t the same as letting your 5 year old kid scribble on the walls with a marker or rebel and dye their hair purple. As parents we need to teach our creative kids limits, and how to function as a responsible member of society.

But we do also need to back off a tad sometimes, and when it’s something like stickers on a $15 table that belongs to my son, I’m happy to do just that.

Watch Your Language

The most sure fire way to crush a child’s creative spirit is to inadvertently tell them they’re no good at art.

This isn’t something parents do on purpose for the most part. The way we word things with our kids is so important; their powers of perception are far greater than we give them credit for.

I read a passage over 10 years ago (that I believe was in Orbiting the Giant Hairball) about how kids grow up as artists. Ask a group of kindergartners who in their class is an artist, and almost everyone will raise their hand. Ask a 2nd grade class the same question, and less kids raise their hands. Ask a 5th grade class? Even less. Don’t even get me started about high school.

Why is this?

Kids are taught from a very early age who the artists in their class are. And they’re always the kids that can draw the most realistically. They’re told things like “Look how good Johnny drew that tree” or “Wow, Janie’s a really great artist.”

But my kid sucks at art. How am I supposed to be nice about that?

Your kid doesn’t suck at art. Your kid does art differently than anyone else on the planet, and that’s pretty dang special. Keep that in mind when you’re discussing the bizarre scribbly thing they just handed you.

“What is it?” should be stricken from your vocabulary forever. Train yourself to say “Tell me about your picture” instead. If your creative kids are younger, show them how you can hold their scribbles at different angles, and point out different things you see when you do that. Comment on their use of color. Find a way to talk about their work without questioning it. “That is SO COOL!” goes a long way.

Just please. Don’t ever say “Mmmm… Joanie drew that tree much better than you did.”

Steph Calvert is the work at home mom, graphic and web designer, and illustrator behind Hearts and Laserbeams. Her work has been seen worldwide on apparel, in print, and online, and she’s been writing the Hearts and Laserbeams blog for over 10 years. Steph lives in Savannah, Georgia with her hilarious partners in crime, husband Josh, son Phil, and mom in law Carole. She enjoys coloring with her son, karaoke, and a good glass of wine every now and then. (But preferably now, thanks.) 

Watch The Live Chat!

I’ve gathered together some of the most creative minds in blogging to share their tips on raising creative kids LIVE on Google+ Hangouts on Air today.

Watch here:

Steph Calvert | http://www.heartsandlaserbeams.com
Darcy Zalewski | http://www.darcyandbrian.com
Holly Homer | http://www.kidsactivitiesblog.com
Jillian Riley | http://amomwithalessonplan.com
Anna Ranson | http://theimaginationtree.com/
Starr Bryson | http://ninjamoo2.wix.com/insomniacsdream



Devan McGuinness July 17, 2013 at 6:45 am

I love these tips from Steph — I am going to try to put more of these into play this summer for my kids.

Steph Calvert July 17, 2013 at 10:23 am

Thank you Devan! Let us know how it goes!

Brian Sorrell July 18, 2013 at 2:26 am

So many of these tips resonate with me! Doing the best I can to raise my little boy has taught me how much I’ve been violating these rules *myself* for too long. This kid and I teach one another.

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