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How to Stimulate a Child's Mind

Encouraging Creativity in Children

Your child displays creativity when she shakes a tambourine or bangs a drum to the beat of the dishwasher or makes something where nothing was before -- a drawing, a finger painting, a clay animal. Creative children also are at work when they put on your old shoes and play house, insist that you set a place for an imaginary friend at the dinner table, tell you a tall tale about how the milk really got spilled, or beg you to get rid of the monsters that inhabit the bedroom closet.

Nurturing your child's creative abilities involves a bit of a paradox. You need to let go a little, to back off and leave artistic and inventive decisions up to her. However, you can trigger imagination by asking thought-provoking questions concerning the whys, hows, and whats of objects and situations. It's very important that you be available to provide reassurance when creative ventures don't go right and praise for trying as well as finishing.


Some concrete help is required. For example, it's your job to offer your child experiences from which to take off in creative ventures. Without having seen and heard and participated in many of the wonders of the world, she does not have a base upon which to build or play. Offering these experiences does not mean a tour of Europe; it means, for example, long and careful looks at everyday objects and places and people, picnics in the park, and visits to woods and streams. Encouraging creativity in art projects and make-believe play are discussed on this page.

Art Projects

Sometimes actual instruction is called for. You need to teach your child how to use the art materials you supply; your suggestions will help in first efforts at drawing and painting, and your supervision is definitely required in many situations. Art supplies are fun to buy, and you may be surprised at the number of them even a baby can handle and enjoy. Before the age of one, a child loves to scribble on a big piece of paper with a fat graphite pencil. She can move up soon to colored pencils, jumbo crayons, chalk, and, by age two, water-based felt-tip pens.

When your child is ready to paint, probably at about two years of age, think first of protection -- one of your old shirts to cover the child and newspaper sheets or a special mat to cover the floor. A two year old can help you make finger paint (see recipe to the right). For easel painting, poster paints are a good choice.

Paper for drawing and painting can become expensive in the quantities some eager artists require. Consider using plain newsprint (which you may be able to buy from the newspaper office or art supply store in a roll), shelf paper, scrap paper or used computer paper you bring home from the office, and the white insides of cut-open disposable diaper boxes. Beginning painters sometimes do better with pastry brushes or trim-painting brushes from a paint store; they hold more paint and are easy to handle.

From the age of two, your child loves to pound, roll, and flatten whatever kind of clay you supply as her sense of touch develops. The most practical first clay is a plasticized variety you can buy at the store or a flour or baking soda and cornstarch clay you make yourself (see the recipes in the sidebar).

Coloring books. Should you let your child use coloring books, or do they discourage creativity? They're fine, say educators, as long as you also supply plain, blank paper and don't insist your child stay inside the lines. They say coloring books help a child develop dexterity with crayons and offer a chance to explore color and color combinations. With a coloring book, a child can turn out a creditable picture, perhaps on a day when she hasn't the energy to start from scratch.

Imagination at Work

Make-believe play. You'll see your child's first attempts at make-believe before he can walk, when the two of you play peek-a-boo with a handkerchief. At six months, your baby pretends to groom his head, bald or not, with a hairbrush. Your early walker imitates your floor sweeping with a push-toy, if no little broom is handy. Your child will amaze you with his inventiveness finding props -- a receiving blanket becomes a swirling cape for dancing or a knapsack for carrying supplies to a hiding place blocked off with a pile of books under the dining room table. You can contribute props, too, including such castoffs as hats and shoes and other clothes, costume jewelry, and a briefcase or small suitcase. You'll learn not to discard big cardboard boxes, the cores from rolls of toilet tissue or paper towels, the plastic containers strawberries come in, or almost anything else that is clean and intact.

Sometimes your child brings his dolls, stuffed animals, and puppets into imaginative play. Long conversations may take place as your child reenacts interesting or worrisome situations. You are also likely to see and hear versions of punishments and scoldings you recognize as originating with you.

Imaginary friends. Other times these dramas may include an imaginary playmate who comes and goes or who is with your child day and night. Only children are more apt than others to have these imaginary friends, but many later siblings have them, too. The friend may cause you some annoyance when your child insists upon a good-night kiss or a seat at the table for him or her, but there are advantages, too. The most important is companionship, whenever and wherever your child wants it.

Your child can develop creativity through drawing, painting, sculpting and playing. There are plenty of opportunities for expression in music, as well. On the next page, read about integrating music and television into your child's life.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.