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Inspiring Creativity in Your Kids

Long overdue for a date night? Call that great sitter. Want to sleep in for once? Nana would love to have the kids. But beginning each morning with three pages of longhand journaling designed to “provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand?” Well, maybe this time you’ve stepped into parental fantasyland.
Or have you? For the creative thinkers who follow Julia Cameron's classic guide to fostering creativity, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, the journaling ritual serves a slightly different function for moms and dads. In her highly anticipated follow-up, The Artist's Way for Parents, Cameron urges parents to do their best to protect the daily “Morning Pages” ritual. “We lose sight of ourselves,” she says of new parents. “We feel isolated.” Morning Pages remains a vital tool for creative thinkers who find themselves suddenly concentrating on a child 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
First published in 1992, the bestselling Artist's Way fed the inner lives of millions of readers eager to hurdle artistic blocks and gain confidence in their creative abilities. With this summer's release of The Artist's Way for Parents, Cameron embraces her experience as a mother and grandparent to show parents how to build family rituals that nurture creativity not only in their children but in Mom and Dad too.
Americans put a lot of stock in creative power. A recent TIME survey of more than 2,000 people showed that not only do 91 percent of people think creativity is important to their personal lives, but 83 percent believe it's important to their professional lives as well. Just shy of two-thirds believe creativity is central to America's role as a global leader, and Americans who believe we’re slipping on that front blame it on a lack of creativity in schools and lack of government support for creativity.
Cameron says parents need to preserve and feed their own creative impulses even during the early family years if they are to ignite the creative spark in their children. “For 20 years, people would say to me, ‘How do you make your children more creative?’” Cameron says. “And I would respond, ‘Be more creative yourself. Children emulate what we do.’” At that point, Cameron's readers would turn away, dejected by the lack of specific advice. “I was sort of tough and I would say, ‘Just work The Artists' Way, and everything will work out.’”
Once her own daughter married and got pregnant, Cameron found herself wanting to lend more specifics. The Artist's Way for Parents starts off with two of Cameron's original tools for creativity: Morning Pages, which is three daily pages of journaling for a parent, and Creative Expeditions, a weekly field trip for both parents and children. Highlights, the new component, adds a nightly bedtime ritual for sharing, reflecting on and bonding over a favorite moment from the day.
In fact, local child development specialists observe that the roadmap to creativity in The Artist's Way for Parents looks remarkably similar to the roadmap for strong, connected families and relationships.
“The word here is relationships,” says Casey Call, Ph.D., an associate research scientist at the Institute of Child Development at Texas Christian University. Creative thinking arises naturally, she explains, when children enjoy the kind of consistency from their parents that builds a secure base of operations. “Children who don't have that secure base, who don't have that confidence and the trust built up, they kind of stay in their more primitive brain. Children who have the secure relationship with their caregivers … are able to use their prefrontal cortex, which is where there's sophisticated and complex thinking. There's imagination. There's planning. It all goes back, in my opinion, to relationships.”
If we're somehow missing the elusive quality of creativity in school, can we pinpoint what creativity is and somehow foster it at home? At its most basic, creativity is about thinking flexibly, finding ways to solve a problem. “It's definitely more than art,” says Debbie Miller, a home-schooling mom of four in Plano whose brood relies on LEGOs as their engine to replicate, imitate, imagine and portray. “It's taking discrete things and turning them into something they were never meant to be. It's a way of thinking that you haven't read, you haven't seen. You just do it.”
Even infants engage in this kind of creative thought. Candice Mills, Ph.D., a specialist in the development of social cognition and critical thinking at The Think Lab at the University of Texas at Dallas, points to the dinner table as a ripe zone for forays into creative thinking. “Watching my own son, sometimes he would use a spoon in one hand, sometimes he would use another, sometimes he would hold the bowl and kind of squish his face into the bowl, and sometimes he would just pick up the bowl and pour the food into his mouth,” she says with a laugh. “It's weird to think about as creativity in some ways, but it is. A lot of their creativity focuses on learning how stuff works.”
Allowing natural opportunities to experiment is vital, Cameron says. Once parents have recovered their own sense of creative balance and built a secure home base for children, they can fling open the doors to creativity and allow kids to explore. “I grew up in a family where creativity was nurtured and expected,” she says. “My mother would set us up with toys or paints or Crayolas or scissors and paper, and then she would go off to her writing desk. She gave us the materials to work with, but she didn't try to control or overly meddle with them.”
Cameron says she hopes her latest book will pass on that sense of freedom to other parents, helping them dismantle the mythology that tells them they should be with their children 24/7. “That's not healthy,” she says. “I would hope the book brings people back to themselves. I would hope that they start to feel optimistic, and it would dismantle perfectionism.” Cameron seeks to lead families along another path — with plenty of opportunity for bumps, messes and creative exploration along the way.

Published Spetember 2013