Fostering Creativity in Children the Montessori Way

As a parent, fostering creativity in my three children has always been high on my list of priorities. Growing up, it wasn’t until high school that I really considered myself an artist of any sort, and after taking a few art classes, I went on to study art history in university. Despite some experience in the arts as a teenager and college student, I never really had a consistent art practice outside of that. Now, as a mother, I dabble in watercolor painting and drawing and do my best to let my children see me making art (in fact, that’s one of the tips I have!) After studying Montessori and implementing it at home for a few years now, I have a few ideas of how to foster true creativity in young children.

By “true creativity” I mean creativity that comes from the heart and is purely child-led, meaning not inspired by an adult idea or direction. In my house, a truly creative moment is a child focusing on their drawing, painting, or building, who is usually silent but sometimes singing to themselves. They almost never ask for adult help and potentially don’t even show the drawing to the adult because their inner satisfaction is so high. When my children are in these moments, I try hard not to interrupt them for it is here that their creativity is blossoming.

So how can we foster true creativity?

Focus on real world experiences for the child to use as inspiration.
Just as adult artists tend to take “inspiration walks” to spur creativity, children also need real life experiences to base their artwork on. These moments need not be luxurious or cost a lot of time and money, a simple walk to the park with a loved one and a chance to talk about the shapes of the tree leaves or the bugs they find can inspire an artwork. Or in the case of my children, a train ride or walk down the street to find buses and taxis will often result in a highly detailed drawing of such vehicles when we get home. Even a trip to the grocery store and then cooking dinner together may inspire an after dinner food painting session. For a child under 5 years old, these real experiences are much more impactful than those they may get through a screen. It is through cementing their understanding of the real world that their internal creativity flourishes.

A trip to Tokyo Skytree inspired many architectural drawings for the 4 year old

Introduce how to use various art materials, but don’t show what exactly to make with them.
This is something we do in Montessori classrooms. Art materials, such as watercolor paints, clay, and pastels, are introduced to the child by the adult showing them how to set up their paper and supplies and then making a simple mark on the page or crafting a simple shape as with clay. We don’t demonstrate an ornate design because then the child will think that is all we can do with the material. In fact, we don’t want them to copy the adult version of something! We want them to create their own design. Once these materials have been introduced, leave them accessible to the child at any time so when the creative urge strikes, they can satisfy it without your help.

Also, coloring books, however fun, are not art materials and don’t really foster any creativity. They simply allow the child to practice coloring in the lines. Plain blank paper will always help your child more developmentally than coloring books, plus it’s cheaper!

Exploring watercolors at 2 years old

Offer opportunities to control and coordinate the hand
There are few things more frustrating for the first plane (0-6 year old) child than to have an idea in their head that they are physically incapable of bringing to life. This is usually due to the fact that their hand coordination and control is lacking behind their intellectual abilities! Giving the child many chances to indirectly prepare their hand will aid in their ability to create. Some things you can do at home (and many also happen to be lessons in a 3-6 Montessori classroom!) to increase hand strength and coordination are:

  • squeezing water out of a sponge and then using it for cleaning
  • wringing water out of a cloth
  • pouring water from a pitcher to a glass
  • washing a table
  • scrubbing small linens with a washboard (or a scrub brush) to remove stains
  • washing windows
  • watering plants
  • measuring and scooping/pouring ingredients for cooking or baking
  • offering puzzles or activities with knobs to work on their pincer grip (how we hold a pencil)
Even an activity as simple as scooping rocks is developing hand strength and coordination.

Let your child see you being creative!
We are the best models for our child, so if we want to see creativity in our children, we also must find ways to be creative. Whether it’s painting, baking, drawing, pottery, knitting, or even digital art, allowing our children to become part of our creative process is essential. If you aren’t a particularly creative person or don’t have much time to work on hobbies, consider this an opportunity to do so in order to help your child. Most likely you will feel more fulfilled as well. Tip: Have “family art supplies” instead of supplies dedicated to children and to adults. Often times, children’s art supplies aren’t as good of quality as those made for adults which can lead to frustrating results for children. We respect our children’s art by offering the same supplies as adult’s use (as long as they are safe) and showing them how to use them properly.

Painting together at Grandma’s house

Emphasize the process over the product
Recently, I have heard two disheartening comments from parents about their child’s artwork.

Parent 1 (when child wasn’t present): “Yeah, my kids like to draw but they aren’t that good!”
Parent 2: (talking to their child): “Oh you painted your sky green, shouldn’t your grass be green and your sky blue?”

Both of these comments are things I would never say to my child, and I hope you don’t either! For parent 1, even though the child wasn’t there, saying their artwork isn’t good shows that this parent is more concerned about the finished product than the creative process. They are also putting their own judgments about what is “good” art on to their children. Parent 2 is criticizing their child’s creative decisions, possibly causing them to second guess themselves and think they made a mistake by making that color choice. If we want to foster creativity, we should be more concerned with the process than the result. Children are exploring with art and often are just as ready to throw the work in the recycle bin as to hang it on the wall. When they make something out of clay, they are usually ready to smush it down and make something else as soon as they finish. Remember that children are not naturally concerned about what other people think about what they make, and we should keep it that way! Of course, if your child wants to show you what they made that is great, but we don’t need to overly praise them for what they did. We are striving to build internal motivation and confidence in our children so they may be driven by that instead of performative goals.

One last thing, please don’t draw things for your children! It’s difficult because they often ask, especially if they lack confidence, but drawing an adult version of a butterfly vs a child version of a butterfly are two very different things and can often lead to frustration for the child when they can’t draw it the exact same way as an adult. When your child asks, “Can you draw me a butterfly?”, a great response is to say, “Oh, I think you can draw it! What are the parts of the butterfly? Yes, the wings, the antennae, the body…what color do you want to make it?” Usually by this point the child is already off and running with their creative process!

First self-portrait ❤

There is so much more to discuss when it comes to creativity in children that I will hopefully get to in future posts. Until then, happy creating!

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