The Best Ways to Encourage Toddler Creativity

Help your toddler discover and pursue his or her creative passions.

My son Sebastian and I have many things in common, one of which being our affinity for watching Tiny Desk Concerts on YouTube. He began obsessing over guitars shortly after his second birthday, and quickly learned the difference between the acoustic and electric varieties, as well as a litany of vocabulary words like “neck,” “strings” and “frets.”

Eventually we bought him his very own toddler-sized acoustic when he was two-and-a-half years old. He played that puppy until his fingers bled, and then he played some more.

This photo was taken the morning after my two-year-old received his first guitar. Note the cuts on his fingers!This photo was taken the morning after my two-year-old received his first guitar. Note the cuts on his fingers!

One evening while we were in my bedroom, Sebastian ran into my bathroom and quickly returned with a bath towel, which he proceeded to plop down on the carpet. My instinct was to reprimand him: “What are you doing? I just washed that!” However, I bit my tongue and watched as he crouched down and carefully arranged the towel into a shape that resembled a butternut squash.

Before I could ask what he was up to, he ran out of my room again. This time he returned clutching his guitar, which he proceeded to place on top of the towel. “I have guitar case!” he said proudly. My heart practically burst out of my chest. I couldn’t believe my tiny toddler had such a big imagination. I was completely blown away.

This moment reinforced my belief that we as parents shouldn’t always jump to redirect our children – sometimes we should wait a moment to see if what they’re doing truly warrants redirection. Had I immediately instructed Sebastian to return the towel to the bathroom, I would never have witnessed this precious moment. More importantly, I might have stamped out his creative fire.

In addition to allowing your toddler a bit of freedom to innovate, there are other steps you can take to foster creativity now to benefit your child down the road.

Creativity for kids happens when you provide opportunities for exploration as well as the freedom to explore.Creativity for kids happens when you provide both opportunities and freedom to explore.

The benefits to being creative

Most successful employees have one thing in common: when they encounter a challenge and they aren’t sure how to solve it, they use their imagination to find creative solutions. By helping your toddler develop creative thinking skills, you could be setting him or her up to succeed later on in life. According to LinkedIn, problem solving is a top in-demand soft skill that employers seek in job candidates.

Studies have also found that creative endeavors stimulate brain development. The School Superintendents Association reported that activities like singing, drawing or dancing wire the young brain in a way that helps kids learn.

Keep it free and simple

When you think about ways to bolster creativity for kids, your mind might go immediately to costly endeavors such as music lessons at the conservatory. Good news: You don’t need to re-mortgage your home to purchase fancy lessons or supplies. In fact, experts recommend parents provide simple objects (your old clothes, pots and pans) and lots of unstructured play opportunities.

Psych Central reported that child educational psychologist Dr. Charlotte Reznick encourages her young clients to build whatever they want with Legos, no instruction manuals needed. And you can always upcycle a cardboard box by giving it to your toddler along with some crayons or washable markers. Who knows? It could become a rocket ship!

To you, it's a cardboard box. To your toddler, it's a rocket ship. To you, it’s a cardboard box. To your toddler, it’s a rocket ship.

In a similar vein, refrain from over-scheduling your kids with too many extracurricular activities. Instead, allow them to find creative ways to entertain themselves with objects found around your home. Just don’t hover over them as they play and manage their every move – while you might think you’re helping, you could be stifling their creative juices.

Help your toddler discover and pursue his or her passions

When it comes to helping children discover their passions, you have to throw a bunch of things at them to see what sticks. For example, Sebastian and his sister have about 15 different musical instruments between them, yet he favors the guitar and ignores the others. (Toddler obsessions are a tale as old as time, but that’s a story for a different day.)

For my toddler, music is oxygen. Knowing that, I make an effort to bring him to live family-friendly concerts, whether that’s a reggae show or a folk festival. I also choose restaurants where live musicians play so he can see his favorite instrument up close and personal while he eats his mac and cheese.

Resist the urge to manage your child's play - instead, let them explore on their own terms.Resist the urge to manage your child’s play – instead, let them explore on their own terms.

Once you’ve exposed your child to all the wonders of the creative world and he or she has found a favorite, be sure to make activities and materials available. For example, let’s say your daughter enjoys painting. You could provide her with various types of paint and allow her to paint on different surfaces with her hands, brushes or sponges. You could then take a trip to a gallery to look at paintings.

How do you encourage creativity in your home?