Recently, I returned to my childhood home and discovered piles and piles of writing journals. As a kid, I would make almost weekly trips to Barnes and Noble with my mom. In addition to picking out books, I would often venture over to the journal section and take my time selecting the perfect journal. I would know when I saw the perfect one and I couldn’t wait to write in them. Some journals contained my most personal secrets and others contained story after story. I would wake up some days and just write… and write.. and write – leaping into strange worlds where I wrote characters that felt like old friends.
The thing is, when I was growing up in the late eighties and early nineties, the world was very different. While we had video games and some computer games, the internet was nothing like it is now. We didn’t have social media, google or even email. We certainly didn’t have those things available to us on our phones. In other words, I could lose hours reading or writing because I had little to distract me. For better or worse, my kids can’t always say the same thing.
As a mom (and writing teacher), it is so important to me that my kids explore their imaginations. For me, exploring my imagination was a necessary part of my development as a young writer. However, even if you aren’t a writer, every day life often requires you to explore your imagination in the same way. Whether your child is problem solving or navigating homework, life requires unique thought. I’ve realized in order to spark my kids creativity, I have to actively engage them in activities that will stimulate their minds. Here are a few tips I’ve found to get those creative juices flowing!
I have three active boys. They are constantly moving: running around the house, doing flips off the couch, or just leaning backwards in their chairs at dinner. When they are feeling stuck on a project or problem, I challenge them to give into their bodies need to move. We have quick dance breaks or when the weather allows, outdoor play to get the blood and oxygen flowing through their bodies. Did you ever see the movie Garden State? In it, Natalie Portman’s character, Sam, challenges Zach Braff’s character, Andrew, to make a completely original sound or movement. The challenge, at the most base level, feels silly, but in actuality, it’s kind of genius. It forces you to exist outside the limits of language and movement and challenges you to say or do something you have never done before. You can’t be vain or self-conscious… just you. Often right before a creative activity, I have my boys jump, dance or move in a completely original way to gear them up to think in a completely original way.
2. Oral Stories
In today’s fast-paced and plugged in world, silence and stillness can be scary. I constantly fight my impulse to pick up my phone when waiting on a friend or on a long line. When my kids are faced with waiting, they immediately want their iPad or phone to ease the discomfort of having to be still in their own bodies and minds. In order bring them out of their discomfort without disconnecting from the world around them, I challenge them to observe something and tell me a story about it. For instance, recently, we went to the National Aquarium in Baltimore. It has the most magnificent floor to ceiling fish tanks that surround you and make you feel like you are living among the fish. My kids and I started telling stories for the fish and talking for them. They were trying to escape, we decided, and we plotted a whole mission on how they were going to do it
If there is one thing that the instant accessibility of the internet has brought us, it is the constant access to issues up for debate. It has made experts out of the every day man and everyone has an opinion. Issues can be polarizing and often grown adults don’t know how disagree amicably. The thing is, healthy debate is good. It challenges you to think about why you believe the things you do and don’t believe the things you don’t. Often, at the dinner table, I purposely raise an age appropriate controversial current event to my children and give them an opportunity to develop an opinion. I encourage them to articulate how they feel and find support for their opinions, objectively and subjectively. Encourage your children to develop opinions, find support for them, and articulate their opinion on things going on around them. Play devil’s advocate challenging their thought process and encourage them to delve deeper into why they feel the way they do. While it’s okay to become passionate, encourage you child to disagree respectfully and amicably. These skills will encourage your children to think creatively and become better people.
4. Imaginative Play
Fiction writing is a lot like acting. You are forced to inhabit the mind of someone other than yourself which can be an empathy building exercise. Provide a space to encourage imaginative play like a park or a playground. If have to stay indoors, provide props and toys. As your children get older, you can encourage them with murder mystery games or other task oriented exercises. Don’t be afraid to be your child’s playmate and engage in imaginative play with them. You are never too old to let your imagination run free!
I was recently having a conversation with an author friend about the power of prompts in writing. She was stumped on how to end a story and was giddy with excitement over how a prompt inspired her to go in a direction she wouldn’t have otherwise thought of going. Sometimes creativity requires inspiration. Encourage your kids to write by guiding them. It can be as simple as assigning a task, i.e., write about a pair of shoes, giving them a story starter, i.e., “It was a dark and stormy night” or finding compelling art online and encouraging you child to describe what they see. You can even use music to encourage emotive writing and journaling. Just a few sentences encourages your child to activate their creative brains! Remember, prompts don’t just involve writing. Load up on paint, pencils, markers and crayons and use art prompts too. You don’t need to be an artist to make the most of a canvass. The goal is to spark your imagination and have the courage to go where it leads you.
About The Author
Faye McCray is an attorney by day and writer all the time. Her work has been featured on My Brown Baby, AfroPunk, AfroNews, For Harriet, Madame Noire, Black Girl Nerds, Black and Married with Kids, and other popular publications. Faye also has a number of short stories and a full length novel available for purchase on Amazon. Most importantly, Faye is a proud wife and mother to three beautiful and talented young boys who she is fiercely passionate about raising. You can find Faye on Twitter @fayewrites and on the web at fayemccray.com.