Arts With Heart: The Importance of Encouraging Creativity in Children

Asking “what else” and “what if” can inspire kids to stretch their imagination.

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld
Ilana’s picture

One of the drawers in my cluttered apartment is filled with inexpensive, easy and fun activities—books, markers, crayons, paper of all sizes—a collection of materials always ready to keep kids cheerfully busy. A bag of such stuff leaned next to me one day as I drove a half-hour to catch up with an old friend who was visiting her daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren, Ilana, 6, and Hershel, 8. It was a beautiful ride under the most brilliant blue sky and thick, white, foamy clouds.

Sitting around the table, the children watched as I emptied the bag of fun materials. Hershel plunged immediately into one of the activity books. Ilana rather indifferently moved a sheet of paper and a crayon box. Sharing the beauty of the ride, I described the sky and the gorgeous clouds. A few minutes later, the adults’ conversation was interrupted by Ilana, who proudly displayed her picture: a nearly blank sheet of paper with a narrow layer of clouds at the very top.

“Oh, Ilana! What a surprise! Thank you for making a picture of the beautiful clouds!” I gushed. She beamed.

Turning to the others, I added, “That sky was so blue and there were so many clouds!” I could hear Ilana sigh and I looked out of the corner of my eye to see her head bent over her picture. A few minutes later, “ta-da,” she presented her canvas now featuring two layers of clouds and a blob of blue sky.

“It is so kind of you to make this picture, Ilana. May I put it up on my wall to remind me of this special day when you’re finished?” She nodded enthusiastically, flushing with pride.

Turning to the group again, I added to the description of the day: The spring trees were simply abloom with green. Again, there was a huge exasperated sigh from Ilana, followed by a less-energetic display of her picture, which now featured a green tree, blue sky and two layers of clouds.

Our morning visit continued with memories and laughter and occasional interspersing of Ilana’s art as more components were added to the conversation. “The flowers were so colorful … a dear house was almost hidden in the colors,” and so on. Each time, Ilana popped up with a new showing of her ever-growing picture. She was now visibly tired from her creative works. Finally, she held up her picture with all the components that had been discussed, but at the front and center was a drawing of a child. I asked, “Ilana, who is the little girl?”

Smiling, she pointed to herself, “Me!”

I replied, “I just can’t wait to put this picture on my wall. Thank you for such a wonderful gift!”

Ilana hesitated and then nervously asked, “Mimi, will you be mad if I keep the picture for myself? I’ll make you another one sometime.”

I guess it was the warm spring air that caused my eyes to tear. Or was it this clear demonstration of one of my widely shared nudges for creativity, “What else?”

“What else” is like aerobics for the brain. For imagination. “What else” makes you move, makes you think of more, more, more. “What else” challenges you to go beyond your familiar, your easy, your safe. Combine “what else” with “what if” (another of my nudges). What if we had left Ilana’s mostly blank picture with only a layer of clouds? Think of the difference between that image and the final presentation of her work, featuring the little girl smiling as she cheerfully stands next to the flower?

Being with children (and adults) of any age as they are in the process of creating a work of art, it is so easy not to be judgmental or dismissive or discouraging. Ask questions. Give honest, interesting responses. Be appreciative.

Make “What else?” and “What if?” part of your daily creativity workout!

I hope you enjoy Ilana’s picture. She is happy to share it!

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld is a longtime Columbus arts educator and author who works with children of all ages and encourages them to become creative, lifelong learners.

This story is from the Fall 2021 issue of Columbus Parent.

Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld