Be it finger paints, mud pies or a dance party, creative activities can be great fun. They can keep kids busy on a rainy day. They can provide us grown ups with a few moments of peace.
These are wonderful reasons to use creative activities with kids, but what if we look past the immediate benefits? What else is going on when kids are engaged creatively?
Attention to Detail
One of my daycare kids was really into drawing monsters for a good year or two. These monsters were quite intricate and he would spend hours a day working on them.
Once, I witnessed him spend a full 20 minutes adding tiny hairs all over of the body of the monster. Talk about attention span! Now, he didn’t give that kind of attention to everything, but drawing gave him a lot of practice in patience, perseverance and focus.
It’s been my experience that kids are naturally drawn to enjoyable activities that allow for self-expression. If we watch closely, we see these activities quickly become more than just fun.
Kids get engrossed, work hard and feel good about themselves and what they’ve accomplished. They are practicing skills here that will benefit them later on in school and in their personal lives.
A Safe Way to Handle Big Feelings
Creative activities can be a much-needed emotional outlet for children – and adults for that matter. Ever listen to sad music when you need to mope? For me, dancing is a sure “pick me up” when I’m down.
For kids, creative activities can be soothing, calming, or a way to express and process big feelings. Kids can draw a picture for Mommy when they miss her or listen to a favorite song for comfort. Dancing can be an expression of joy and pounding on playdough can help get through angry feelings.
Strength and Coordination
Most creative activities allow opportunities for developing motor skills. Holding a piece of chalk, pulling up a zipper on a costume and working with playdough all strengthen finger muscles in preparation for writing. Dancing and galloping develop muscles, balance and coordination.
How do I make this paper lay down flat on my collage? Why does the glitter keep falling off the page? Everyone wants to use the big drum right now, what can we do?
There are plenty of opportunities for problem solving during creative activities. Time and again I’ve seen kids come up with inventive solutions and use materials in ways that I never would have dreamed of.
Many creative activities can be seen as science experiments. What happens to the sound of a drum when it is hit harder or softer? What happens to sand when water is added? How much water can this cup hold before it spills over?
Kids learn about gravity, sound, force, volume… how things work. This gives them a head start on concepts they will be exploring in school.
Preparing for the Future
“Eighty percent of the information we’re teaching children today will be obsolete in twenty years.” Dr. Spencer Kagan
We can’t possibly know what the world will be like when kids born today grow up. What challenges will they face? What skills will they need? If we don’t know what to teach, how do we prepare them? What kids need today, more than ever, is to learn to think “outside the box.”
Problem solving, critical thinking and creativity are the best tools we can give them to meet unknown challenges. Remember that saying “teach a man to fish?” Instead of spoon feeding our children knowledge, let’s teach them to think, to learn, to analyze. These are skills that will serve them well on any path they choose.
On a larger scale, we need creative thinkers to tackle the world’s serious problems. Environmental issues, violence in schools, disease… there are no simple solutions to these issues. We need creative thinkers to come up with solutions to complex problems.
“OK kids, sit down and paint so you can figure out how to save the world.”
Do I sometimes get carried away in my idealistic thinking? Yes, I suppose I do. Do I think about all this every time I do a creative activity with my daycare kids? No, I don’t. More often I just enjoy the fun of it.
But on days when clean up seems like a chore, or I get caught up wondering “What are the kids really learning here? Am I doing enough?” it helps to remember how much is really going on.