My 8-year-old son loves to give gifts. He’ll often run to his room and return a few minutes later with a container full of some of his favorite things. He hides it behind his back and says, “I have a present for you! Close your eyes and hold out your hands.”
As I follow his instructions, he carefully places the container in my hands, and he watches with anticipation while I open the gift to reveal the special treasure he has created just for me. His gift may be a picture he’s drawn or a treasured trinket he wants to share. It may be a small Lego structure he’s built, or it could be something he repurposed from the trash bin. Each gift brings me joy, not because of what the container holds, but because of the care he used in creating it.
Creativity is introduced in the first verse of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Our first view of God is as Creator. We learn in these opening verses that the earth was formless and empty. Out of this void, God creatively crafted the day, the night, vegetation and animals. We learn in verse 27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them.” Because He is a creative designer and we are formed in His image, this gift of creativity is woven into our humanness.
Children know this gift well. Even a few minutes with a child reveals creative imagination, resourcefulness and initiative. As a counselor trained in play therapy, I believe in Carl Jung’s philosophy that “the creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct” (fmchr.ch/jungll). Children use this play instinct — or creativity — to learn, connect and communicate. They have a fresh perspective, so they experience the world in an original, innovative way. They invent imaginative responses to problem solving. They express their ideas, dreams and relationships through creative play. Social, emotional and psychological health are strengthened through imagination and ingenuity. Toys such as musical instruments, art supplies, Lego and Play-Doh continue to be popular because they allow children to create new music, art and ideas.
As we age, this creative instinct seems to diminish. Scientist George Land conducted a research study in 1968 to test the creativity of 1,600 children approximately 5 years of age. He retested the same children at 10 and 15 years of age. He found that the creativity of 5-year-olds was 98 percent, but creativity had dropped to 30 percent by the time children reached 10 years of age. By age 15, creativity had decreased to 12 percent. He concluded that as we age, we become more accustomed to rules and routines and that “non-creative behavior is learned” (fmchr.ch/glandgr).
It’s our responsibility to nurture and develop the creative instincts in our children. We need to encourage them by asking questions that help them explore new perspectives. We can allow children the space and time to participate in unstructured, child-directed play. We should share places of beauty with them, such as a park or zoo. We must celebrate their creativity by showing them that we cherish their works of art and music. We need to offer new opportunities by exploring new places and making new friends. We can encourage children to make mistakes and fail so that they don’t develop a fear of failure that hinders their creativity. We need to encourage the process rather than the product. We should model creativity by joining them in their creations and showing them our own handiworks.
Most importantly, we need to direct them to God, the ultimate “Master Builder.” Just as He creatively shaped our world and fashioned us in His image, He saw the eternal need to connect with us and used an unprecedented solution to solve the problem: “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him” (1 John 4:9).
What a beautifully innovative gift! I think of my son and the great happiness that his unique gift brings because of the care he uses when crafting it. How much more joy we experience when we’re reminded of the intricate pieces that God crafted in the gift of His son! As we celebrate the birth of Jesus, born of a virgin in a manger, announced to the shepherds by an angel, and worshiped by Magi led by a star, we rejoice in the creativity of God and the providential gift of creativity in our children.
Jen Finley is the church relations director for International Child Care Ministries, a licensed clinical professional counselor and a local ministerial candidate serving John Wesley Free Methodist Church.
1. How can your church encourage the creativity of children while pointing them to their Creator?
2. This Christmas season, how can you use your God-given gift of creativity to help others?5