Television, video games, cellphones and laptops keep them occupied for hours, in some cases acting as live-in babysitters while parents finish chores or just relax.
But while all those devices have their advantages, they also can stifle creativity as children become absorbed in what’s happening inside those screens instead of exploring the real world and letting their imaginations soar.
There are ways to turn that around, though, and get the creative juices flowing in those young minds, says Colleen Miller, a veteran teacher with 15 years of full time and substitute experience in both elementary and middle schools.
“You can always just tell a child to put down the electronic device, but a much better strategy is to give them something else to do,” says Miller, who also is the mother of two teenage sons. “If you can provide an alternative the child can get excited about, then you’ll have a better chance of avoiding those battles over electronics.”
One option for young children is toys that require a little artistic inspiration, she says, such as Legos, the popular plastic building bricks, or Magic Sketch, which allows children to doodle or draw on a liquid-crystal-display screen, then clear their work with a push of a button to start over.
This is especially important with children just returning to school after the summer break because many of them may not have kept their brains as sharp as they should have during that time off, Miller says. Being creative helps children develop mentally, emotionally and socially, aiding them in becoming better students.
Miller says there are a number of ways parents can help inspire children to embrace their creative side, including:
• Spend time in nature. Head to a park and spend a little time on a hiking trail, checking out the plants and the animals, then suggest the children write about the experience or draw something they saw along the way. They could even take along a drawing pad, a Magic Sketch or something similar and draw while they are there.
• Use holidays as inspiration. Children love holidays, so suggest they draw a picture related to whatever holiday is coming up or create a homemade decoration. Either option can stimulate their creativity.
• Be supportive, not critical. This is not the time to play art critic or literary reviewer, Miller says. Let this just be fun and give them freedom with their imagination. If they want to color grass orange or put polka dots on a dolphin, let them. Remind them that’s it’s OK to make a mistake. Plus, with a Lego creation, a Magic Sketch drawing or a construction-paper decoration, they can always just start over.
• Let them choose their passion. Sometimes parents are too insistent that their children learn piano, take ballet lessons or become involved in an activity that the parent is sure will be fun, Miller says. “Giving children the opportunity to try many things is great,” she says, “but make sure you let them have the final say on what it is they are passionate about.”
“Children don’t need to give up their electronic devices completely,” Miller says. “But it’s important to put some limits so they also have time to devote to reading, climbing a tree in the backyard or drawing a picture. They need the opportunity to unleash their creative potential.”