Because Counting Our Blessings Just Isn't Enough

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What do we want for our children?

Happiness? Success? An overall sense of well-­being?

In achieving the dreams we have for our children, there is good news for stressed out, over-­extended families. Evidence is mounting that the very things so many of us want most for our children – happiness, success, and an overall sense of well-­being, can be achieved through what children, given the choice, do naturally ­ imagining, playing, and creating.

I remember an incredibly freeing moment when my daughter, now 21, was a toddler. I read somewhere that there was a huge positive impact to spending thirty minutes a day, every day, playing with your child in entirely child directed activities. It was one of the few pieces of advice from a parenting book to which I committed fully. I delighted for those thirty minutes a day in letting my daughter be, choosing whatever she wanted to play and either including me or having me sit quietly and watch. It’s not that we didn’t play other times; it’s just that this was time in which I did not allow any distractions ­ no phone calls, cleaning or multitasking in any other way and no suggestions from me as to what to play. The time stood in sharp contrast to our Sundays as I rushed to take her, and later my son as well, to every museum and educationally valuable child-­friendly event I could pack in. Weekday evenings, after work, for thirty minutes nothing mattered but my daughter, and later her brother. I focused on being fully present as she unhurriedly engaged in mostly imaginative and creative play.

While I will never know for sure what impact those thirty minutes daily had on my children, I am convinced that creative play matters. Recent research has found that creative practices for children and adults are associated with higher levels of life satisfaction, a more positive self image, less anxiety about change, and a more tolerant and open approach to diverse others (Tepper, 2014). And, I would venture to say that creative practice does not mean signing our children up for as many music and art classes as possible. Creativity can be found in many forms and thrives in playful, unhurried, self-­directed exploration.

Sadly, play is on the decline and some are convinced there is a correlation between that decline and a rise in childhood disorders including sensory issues, attention deficit, anxiety, and depression (Gray, 2014; Strauss, 2015) While the reasons for these disorders are complex, it is becoming increasingly evident that playful creativity is among the most important qualities leading both to an overall sense of well­being as well as to the problem solving skills needed for success in the rapidly changing economy our children will inherit.

We have known for a long time that children are naturally creative. In 1968, George Land, who had devised a creativity test to help NASA select innovative engineers and scientists, decided to try the test out with children. Administering a test for creative genius, he tested and re­tested the same children at 5 years of age, 10 years of age, and again at 15 years of age, and then compared results with the results of the same test given to 280,000 adults.

What did he find?

98% of 5 year olds scored in the creative genius range.

30% of 12 year olds scored in the creative genius range.

12% of 15 year olds scored at the creative genius range.

2% of adults scored at the creative genius range.

Land’s conclusion: Non-­creative behavior is learned. (Land and Jarman, 1993)

So what are parents to do to try to help their children skip those lessons on non-­creative behavior and retain their creative genius, potentially dramatically supporting children’s ability to achieve happiness, success, and overall sense of well-­being? Perhaps the question is more important than the answer. Perhaps by mulling over how to support your children to skip society’s many lessons on non-­creative behavior, you will find the ways to enable your children, inspired Matisse, who calls creative people those who are able to be “curious, flexible, persistent, and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play.”

So guilt-free – go out and play!

And, let me know your ideas on ways to nurture play at home and at school! I’d love to continue the conversation.

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