Parents have a natural inclination to want their children to do things they are good at, maybe because it also reflects well on them. Having a child with a talent for art or dance is often something to show off. But I soon realized that it was more important to let my two daughters pursue their passions, even if they were not very good at them, just for the sheer joy of doing something creative and fulfilling. When I noticed that creativity is not necessarily innate, and more of a skill, I did my best to nurture creativity in them. No one wants to be creative doing something they aren’t interested in, however worthwhile you might think it is, so I tried not to denigrate my daughters’ interests.
Sometimes kids will absorb something that interests them before transforming it into something more imaginative. Playing Minecraft doesn’t seem particularly interesting to me, but if my daughter wanted to live in that environment before transforming it into her own world, then that was fine too.
I would let my kids brainstorm creative ideas for projects and keep a certain amount of art supplies available so that they could always start a new project when inspiration struck. I would tell them about my favorite artists and musicians, and they would get inspiration from them, trying to emulate their achievements before putting their spin on them.
Sometimes I would want them to follow the rules when creating something, but I still did my best to encourage them to think outside the box and express their creativity.
Even if they were coloring in a picture, I encouraged them to not necessarily color inside the lines or to color the sun green or the grass pink. This approach allowed them to express themselves in unique ways, including what they wanted to wear. My younger daughter would not take a certain tutu off, even to go to sleep, for a week, and I just went along with it, because, well, why not?
When my older daughter kept taking her clothes off at preschool—her explanation was “why not? Animals are naked, so why shouldn’t I be?”—I had to admit there was a limit to coloring outside the lines.
I also felt that letting my kids experiment and make mistakes was an essential part of the process. When solving a problem, such as building a castle out of cardboard, I tried not to offer the solution. Instead, I let them figure it out on their own, making mistakes along the way. Kids who are afraid to fail won’t try new things. I would also share mistakes I had made in my creative endeavors, such as in writing a book and losing material because I did not back it up on the computer.
When it came to learning about music, they studied the piano, but I never pressured them to practice. They practiced if they wanted to. This flexibility made them enjoy playing the piano more than seeing it as a chore with a focus on technical perfection. They were also in a band in middle school called The Rockin’ Hobos and recorded songs with some friends. It didn’t matter what I thought of their songs, just as long as they were learning to collaborate and had a blast riffing and singing together.
Ella English is an author and illustrator who lives in Baltimore with her two daughters, who are now 18 and 21. Her new book “Katy on Broadway,” a chapter book for ages 5-7, publishes on May 25. Learn more about English at her website ellaenglish.com.