Exploring creative play at an early age encourages critical thinking and confidence.

“She is so creative, she just loves to draw!” “He is so good at building, he’ll be a great engineer,” said my children’s teachers in their first week of preschool and daycare. 

There is a common misconception that a child is deemed “creative” when they are good at art or drawing. And as many of us experience with our own children, these labels are often gender-based. Girls are “good at art”, boys are “good at building” According to Unicef, even though girls and boys are equally enthusiastic about STEM fields at the kindergarten and early elementary level, girls start falling behind approximately after the age of eight. Girls face more bias with regards to their abilities and often lose confidence in STEM fields like math and engineering.

Related: The best STEM toys for toddlers and kids that encourage curiosity & exploration

Before venturing into the world of play, I studied architecture, which gave me a unique perspective on creativity. I had to learn to take wild ideas I had in my head and turn them into engineered solutions that would stand up on solid foundations. When I later switched careers and learned how to code, it was clear to me that creativity knows no boundaries. Labeling children as artists or builders, or calling attention to their skills at drawing or math, is doing them a huge disservice.

Take a child that loves playing with their cars for example. They build roads and cities to fit various vehicles, experiment with different ideas and iterate on the configuration that works best. In other words, they are experiencing a blast of creativity. Whether our children are interested in mechanics or art, we’re living in a world where being creative is our kids' super power against the unknowns of an often scary future. From rising sea levels to global pandemics the ability to come up with innovative solutions is critical regardless of what our kids grow up to be. And the research is astounding:creativity sets them up to be curious, engaged lifelong learners.

Related: 6 powerful benefits of giving your child a choice

That is why as a mom to a boy and a girl I was truly passionate about creating Follies, a toy that would encourage both my children to build and draw, to truly unleash their creativity in all its shapes and forms regardless of their gender. I also wanted to create something that would boost children's creative confidence by asking them to do something radical: take charge of their playspace by creating it from scratch. And we wanted that space to be as abstract as possible— a bit like sticking your tongue out to grown ups and reclaiming space as one of vivid colors and big-sized imagination.

As we head back to school this fall we will hear a lot about the importance of academics and might even stress about our children’s progress. Are their reading levels ok? Do they know their number operations? But maybe we should take a deep breath (I know, easier said than done) and engage them in creative exploratory play. They will surely enjoy it and working together on projects or engaging in imaginative play might even make us happier as parents. Creativity is instinctive to children, but just as essential for adults. What is parenting after all, rather than an exercise in creativity; figuring it all out as we go, learning to deal with unknowns and having some fun along the way.

Here are three tips to help boost your kids’ creativity and creative thinking:

1. Let your kids lead the way

Little children are very good at knowing what they like, whether it’s a character from their favorite show or eating ice cream, use your child’s interests to kickstart a project together. Paw patrol ice cream shop, anyone?

2. Mess around with different materials

There is a misconception that imagination only happens in our brains, but our hands are equally important. Getting children to tinker with different materials like paper, canvases, markers, finger paints and crayons opens a world of creativity for them. 

3. Emphasize the process, not just the final results

When it comes to creative play, one of the best questions you can ask your children is “How did you make this?” Highlighting the process, the things that worked well or didn’t helps little children develop a growth mindset and develop their curiosity.

Related: 50 sensory activities for 1-year-olds to help them learn by playing

Looking for a jump-start? Check out these fun projects for kids created by our community for imaginative play at-home.

Bonus: Use code MOTHERLY to get $30 off any set from Follies.

THE CANVAS SET

Follies

$159

Let their creativity soar with the Follies Canvas Set

As seen in The TODAY Show: 30 pieces in total that work like a whiteboard: kids draw, then wipe away and store flat after they are done. Made out of 100% non-toxic recyclable plastic.

Best for ages 4+.

Make yard games together

Bring your favorite storybook to life

Create your own spaceship

Bonus: Use code MOTHERLY to get $30 off any set from Follies.

This story is a part of The Motherly Collective contributor network where we showcase the stories, experiences and advice from brands, writers and experts who want to share their perspective with our community. We believe that there is no single story of motherhood, and that every mother’s journey is unique. By amplifying each mother’s experience and offering expert-driven content, we can support, inform and inspire each other on this incredible journey. If you’re interested in contributing to The Motherly Collective please email Collective@mother.ly.