The capacity to think creatively – for instance, in creative writing – forms the basis of self-expression. However, many parents and teachers would agree that creative writing for children is one of the many areas that can be neglected in literacy development, and today’s young generation happen to be struggling with it as a result! It is strange because intrinsically, young ones are motivated to express themselves through writing, and we see social posts becoming one of their favourite activities as they grow older.
As parents and early years practitioners, we may be guilty of not redirecting and channelling this instinct towards something fruitful – like giving them crayons and paper. What we do instead is give them gadgets with educational videos on the display, often just to be able to give ourselves some time and space. Thus, in the absence of the right environment and motivation, this creative instinct can die, or at least become muted.
If we want children in our care to be more imaginative and better creative writers, here are some strategies that can get both the children, and you, started.
Unplug from technology more often
The passive consumption of TV, smartphones, laptops, and online games etc., is largely responsible for dulling children’s senses and their desire to express themselves through writing. So parents and practitioners need to create a short ‘unplugged zone’ during the week or a longer one over weekends – for the family, and engage their children in conversation, listen to them and tell stories, explore ideas, or draw and write things together. There are some ways technology and media can be used by parents to give children material, for example to give them writing prompts, and it can be used by teens to create blogs too, but unplugged time will give them room to develop their imagination.
Surround children with books and stationery
It is very important to surround children with books rather than gadgets. Proximity creates curiosity and the desire and motivation to explore, can set the ball rolling in the right direction. You should also take children to libraries and bookstores often, giving them the freedom to choose the books they want to read and the kind of stationery they like. This can include journals and any writing materials they want to use for their projects, such as pens, coloured pencils, crayons, folders, binders and stickers.
Encourage children to read more
Reading stimulates the imagination as it exposes children to new words, sentence structures, plots, and characters. If a toddler is too young to read on their own, you should read out loud to them. Picture storybooks and audio books are best for them. Depending on their age, you can ask them to create short book reports on what they have read or other journal topics. Likewise, you could get a teenager a Kindle or Nook Reader and give them access to ebooks and audiobooks. Active reading skills naturally lead to a better ability to express oneself in words.
Discuss ideas and extend them into write-ups
One way to encourage creativity is to help children unleash their imagination through active discussion. Once a child is old enough to communicate, ask them questions about common things such as: places visited, people met, and books you’ve read together. Ask age-appropriate, probing questions, raise points, and add details. Use these discussions as writing prompts and encourage children to extend their ideas in stories and write-ups. You can extend this activity for older children by asking them to develop the scope of their imaginative work into other areas such as essays, paragraphs, compositions and speeches. These techniques can even be used in tackling scientific or maths work.
Make composing words fun
Ironically, some children find imaginative assignments boring, probably because they fail to see the point behind the exercise. But penning your thoughts is supposed to be fun, funny, bold, silly, enjoyable, explorative and adventurous, because this is the way our imagination and intuition works. Don’t force logical and/or more rational thinking to interfere with the flow of creative thoughts and words. Also, don’t focus too much on pointing out and correcting any mistakes in content and form, such as spellings and punctuation at this stage. Let your children compose freely and without stopping. You can return to these things later. Display your child’s creative draft as much as you celebrate their artwork – place it prominently on the fridge, and show it to guests and grandparents!
Set a better example yourself
Experts have hypothesised that parents are not modelling better literacy skills for their offspring because they are themselves guilty of spending too much time in front of the TV or on their smartphones. This is one of the reasons why parents can be distracted and pressed-for-time themselves. Parents who read more (including books, newspapers and magazines), maintain diaries or a journal, and visit bookshops and libraries, are often able to set a better example to their young children than those who do not.
Helping children to think and compose freely and creatively, opens up their minds to possibilities. Expressing oneself creatively using spoken or written words, is a skill that has many uses beyond school, as it teaches young ones to think ‘outside the box’, solve problems and appreciate and tolerate different viewpoints.