Supporting Children's Creativity

Are you the parent of a uniquely talented teen—a self-taught guitarist, say, or a pianist? Does your child write song lyrics or poetry? Could he choreograph the dance number for the school play, complete with orchestral scores and set design? Could she rewire an I‑Pod or install a car stereo? Could he or she design clothing?

Many artistic geniuses are born but, sadly, few are nourished. Because society tends to favour academic achievement over creative accomplishment, creative and talented youngsters can feel less valued than the class whiz in science or math. Given this bias, some children choose to downplay their creativity, opting to emphasize their academic abilities, instead.

Many people believe that education systems created in the 19th century and designed to meet the needs of the industrial age are still relevant today. Such systems tended to rank subjects hierarchically according to how well they were perceived to prepare students for employment. Not surprisingly, science and mathematics appeared at the top of this hierarchy and art, music and other creative pursuits at the bottom.

British author, former professor and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson believes that such a structure does not serve students as well as it once did and that we need to radically expand our view of intelligence. “Creativity in education is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status,” Robinson says. He points out that children starting school in 2010 will retire in about 2069. Who, he asks, has any idea what the world will look like 60 years from now?

Sir Robinson is far from alone. Harvard Professor Howard Gardner argues that people possess not just one but seven abilities or intelligences, which he identifies as follows: (1) body or kinaesthetic, (2) interpersonal, (3) verbal or linguistic, (4) logical-mathematical, (5) intrapersonal, (6) visual and spatial and (7) musical. Gardner believes that students would be better served by an approach to education that takes into account these multiple intelligences.

If your child exhibits imagination or artistic flair, those abilities can and should be nurtured. But identifying what truly engages and interests a child can be a challenging task. Asking the old question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” can push young people into making premature decisions. Teens should be reassured that they do not have to make major career decisions by the age of 14.

When you speak with your children, encourage them to develop their skills, interests, talents, creativity and imagination. The many small decisions involved in these endeavours will help them clarify what they eventually want to do as a career. Having a variety of experiences, not just academic ones, will also help your children to develop valuable new skills. Teens need to understand that many paths can lead them to where they want to go.

People whose work strongly matches their interests, values and skills tend to enjoy what they are doing and are more likely to reach their career and personal goals. Encourage your children to sort out what they like and dislike about their school work. Be open to their questions and concerns. Discuss how their hobbies might lead to future employment opportunities that match their interests, skills and values.

A world of opportunity awaits our children. By celebrating students’ knowledge, experiences, skills, talents and potential, parents and educators can influence the career choices that students ultimately make. Here are some ways that parents can better guide their teenage children:

  • Build and maintain open relationships with your child’s counsellors and teachers.
  • Accompany your child to the school’s career day.
  • Join your school, district or provincial parent-advisory council and advocate for a well-rounded education program.
  • Celebrate your child’s achievements, both academic and creative.

Here are some additional sources of information for parents interested in helping their children to succeed:

Alberta Learning Information Service. Making the Most of Your Future.
Gardner, Howard. Multiple Intelligences.
Krahn, Harvey and Alison Taylor. Students' Career Options Linked to Parents' Education: Study.
Wikipedia. Theory of Multiple Intelligences.