how to teach creativity to kids: if anyone has any idea, please let me know

You’re creative!” wrote my children’s principal, in a cheery email to me a week or two ago. “Won’t you join us for Creativity Week?” Well, that sounded fun! I may not be the mom you want around for gingerbread man-making, but I’m a artistic sort! Sure, sign me up! I responded, figuring I’d be helping pass out the cray-pas to the second graders some afternoon.

Here, a lesson: read all fine print before signing any contract. It was only after my casual acceptance that I learned what the honor of being chosen for Creativity Week really meant: my second grader’s teacher hands me the reins for  thirty minutes, during which I creatively teach seventeen children about being creative. “Let me know if you need anything,” that teacher said kindly at pickup yesterday, and I wanted to say “um, a lesson plan would be good,” but I get the sense that I’m supposed to show up with one of those.

Then I got an email last night, saying my other son’s kindergarten class would love to have me also. Then this morning at dropoff, the kindergarten teacher told me that the other kindergarten would be there as well, and wasn’t that a great idea? That’s THIRTY-EIGHT CHILDREN in one room, which is such a bad idea, actually, that they have two kindergarten classes to keep the numbers under control- except for half an hour during Creativity Week, when they are someone else’s problem. 

I don’t think my kids’ teachers are going to LEAVE, necessarily. (God I hope not.) I do think they are putting way too much confidence in my abilities. I’ve worked some tough crowds- dads on Blackberries, moms who have downed a pitcher of margaritas each- but never forty five-year-olds who haven’t played outside very much lately. 

Sure, it can be done.  Little Bill’s dad spoke to his son’s class, and turned what Little Bill feared would be a yawn-fest about life as a housing inspector into a fascinating exploration of the three little pigs and their citations for structural infirmities. But if you watch Little Bill, you know that he basically has like three other kids in his whole kindergarten class, so clearly any similarities to real life stop right there. 

Panic leads to procrastination, so I don’t have much so far, but I’m thinking for the second graders, I’ll talk about how to make room for creativity in a life with way too much screen time, and then have them do a writing exercise or something. But the kindergarteners are harder: they can only “write” with one-on-one adult assistance, and we will be approximately thirty-four adults short. That means we will have to do “theater games,” which I give five minutes tops before they devolve into “let’s say ‘poopy'” games. Hack choice, but always hilarious. Then I’ll never get ’em back. 

Anyone care to give me some words of advice about speaking to their kids’ classes? 

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Kim H January 21, 2011 at 7:42 pm

I am not a teacher, but I did have a great job a while back where I got to go into classrooms and help kids learn history through skits, games, etc. Maybe for little ones you could do a quick talk about how being creative is making something out of not very much. From the alphabet on the board, have the kids pick a few letters, then assign a word to each one — A=apple, D=dog, etc. — and spin a story off the cuff from those words. Paper bags (lunch-size) can be turned into puppets, hats, purses, boots — with just a little creativity / imagination. (And maybe some crayons to decorate them if you need to kill a bit more time!) I hope these ideas help. Good luck!! 🙂


Amy Wilson January 21, 2011 at 8:06 pm

Kim I love it! thanks!


sharon January 21, 2011 at 8:31 pm

Hi Amy-
A couple of months ago I lead my son's second grade class through the steps to make homemade lava lamps for his "Star Student" week…. and then we ended the session with chocolate cake. It was a great success…. and thankfully no one spilled the oil concoction needed for the lava lamps all over the floor or themselves…. if you are interested just give me a shout out and I'll send you the details- but it is super simple.
Can you end with a snack? A creative one? Like a lego cake (smile)?!


Jennifer January 21, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Personally, I'd go around and beg for a bunch of used boxes in a variety of sizes. (You might want to avoid the liquor store this time.) Then I'd bring the boxes in and let them work in small groups of their choosing or by themselves, one box per kid. My backup plan would be a knock knock joke contest. I love knock knock jokes. Sadly only 5 to 8 year olds seem to appreciate them. 🙂


Emily January 22, 2011 at 1:23 am

A fun and easy project would be to take a square of paper and have the kids Zentangle it. Go and check it out. I don't have anything to do with the company, but I teach Zentangling to my students in high school and my kids at home ages 10 and 6 love it. You could have each of the kids do a basic one with the first letter of their name. The entire process is about creativity, but it teaches kids to focus and such. And it requires no artistic talent. If I can get my act together, I'll have my kindergartener zentangle her name or something this weekend and post it for you! I do have a few examples on my blog should you need a reference.


Emily January 22, 2011 at 2:56 am

We made a project tonight! Thanks for inspiring me to do a creative project with my 6 year old on the fly!


M. Stratton Norman January 22, 2011 at 8:05 pm

The goal would be to keep it simple, right? That puppet idea is a good one. For the younger kids….How about cutting out snowflakes. Or coloring Kids' Mandalas (available on Amazon, of course). For the older kids….A Mad Libs kind of a process? Charades with their own categories? How-to-cartoon pages? Or how about creating Word Clouds (as seen on…?


Amy Wilson January 22, 2011 at 10:07 pm

I am so blown away by all of your creativity. Might I interest you in a slot at a New York City grade school next Tuesday morning?

Seriously, I am writing all of this down. Jennifer's box-as-whatever idea is supreme, but the class has already done something very similar in the lead-up TO creativity week. Another complicating factor is that I *think* I am supposed to provide creative activities in the writing and/or acting areas, more than in visual art. (Margy's Mad Libs idea may come in handy with the older kids, in that case.) But if I'm desperate, I can at least fall back on the knock knock joke contest, and Sharon's idea of a "creative" snack.

Emily, that Zentangle thing looks adorable- if I can't use it with the class I'm totally using it at home.

Again, thank you all for all the help! I'll let you know how it goes…


Lynnelle January 23, 2011 at 5:45 am

I hate to even post as this doesn't sound very creative, but if you wanted to do a writing activity what about heart topics especially with Valentine's Day approaching? Each child investigates what topics are on their heart? The kindergartners could draw pics on it if they can't draw words and the older kids could do both. My students were very creative with is activity and then when I went to my daughter's parent/teacher conference she had completed one, but used pics instead of words. Here's a link to the actual lesson…


Jaime January 24, 2011 at 4:07 am

For a combined creative writing/acting activity for the older kids, what if you chose a simple theme (a flower or a dog or a holiday or something) and divided the kids into small groups. Each group has to write a story (very short and simple) about the theme and then act it out in front of the class.


Anonymous January 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm

Here's a link to some classic improv exercises:

Some of these can be done with little ones, especially the gibberish games.

Also fun: Freak Tag. It's tag, but you have to freeze in the position you were tagged in, and then chase everyone around making appropriate noises as your monsterish pose suggests. Once you tag someone else, they become a monster too, until the whole class is a bunch of deformed monsters chasing a few quick holdouts.


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