I have three little fox cubs, I call them #‘s 1, 2 and 3.  Cub #3 has just turned 3 and while he likes making marks, cutting paper and sticking glue any and everywhere, he is not driven to as #2 is and always has been. Now aged almost 5, she is prolific and spends probably 80% of her free time creating something in one form or another. As long as she is creating, she is happy and will use any medium at her disposal. She can drive me to distraction with the mess but I am loath to stifle her as she has a major natural aptitude for ‘making’, plus it keeps her quiet and content.

Cub #1 is a different story. He has just turned 6 and while happy drawing for a short time he usually gets upset because he thinks he is not very good at such things or frustrated because his ‘T-Rex does not look like a T-Rex’. He has good concentration however, so when he puts his mind to it, or when coerced and encouraged, he can come up with some fantastic ideas and pieces of work. He will often screw up something he has been working on saying, ‘This is rubbish, I am useless at this!’  After some coaxing or discussion about his aims we then find solutions and some new ways to look at things and he will get going again. By the time he has finished he is often so proud of his work that he offers to sell it to me.

I think this frustration may be true for many children, yet opening up their creative juices is not so difficult and the benefits are countless. If they can sit down and feel that they will make something they will like, they’ll add a new notch to their confidence metre. If they draw something which is impossible to discern but the colours are beautiful, focus their attention there and they will have fun simply experimenting with patterns and colour. Getting messy with paint can be great fun, I once put paint onto paper plates and got the little foxes naked in the garden – they then stamped in the paint and stuck their hands in before parading up and down a length of paper from a roll (you can use an old wallpaper roll too) making patterns. 

I then laid them down on the paper and drew around them and they coloured ‘themselves’ in.  Once they understand that they don’t have to produce fine art but just enjoy creating, littluns will come up with and enjoy all sorts of creative pursuits.

I can’t remember why, but one day before starting year 1, I had cub #1 to myself and he wanted to draw a liopleurodon (prehistoric sea predator) but had reached his wits end and started frantically tearing up the paper. After calming him, we sat down and thought about what we could create without drawing but still using an underwater theme and decided to start with something simple. We taped together 6 A4 sheets of printer paper – you can buy economy reams of 500 sheets for under £3.00 – and attached it to our easel out in the garden. In an old yoghurt pot he mixed a deep blue paint with green and white and began to cover the whole ‘sheet’ giving himself a blank underwater page. While it dried, we talked about what we would like to see under the sea. Just a few creatures to keep things simple so, starfish, seahorses and fish were what he came up with and we began making. 

Using paper plates cut in half, we made jellyfish. We painted them gold and silver, gave them faces and waited for them to dry before attaching strips of green paper to the undersides for the tentacles. Using more paper plates cut with a few snips we made a fish and a starfish. When he was happy with the faces he’d painted and the googly eyes were stuck, he positioned them on the paper and hey presto, one very happy camper. We were so pleased with the resulting piece that it ended up in the downstairs toilet adding a very much needed splash of colour.

Let’s not forget how easy it is to cover a plastic bottle in foil and make a rocket. It doesn’t have to be tidy or complicated but they will be happy making something this simple and it’s easy for them to jazz it up a bit. Cub #1 is of the mind now that although he may not be able to draw as well as his sister, he can actually be just as creative using mediums other than pencil and paper.

If you can put up with a bit of mess, maybe even sometimes a lot, you can encourage your child to let loose with their imagination. Cub #2 often cuts up my supplements and uses them to create her own pictures – for example, she will draw a crude table and then cut out any pictures of food and stick them to the table top before drawing equally crude people on chairs around the table – or simply cut people out and add them to the scene. She doesn’t need encouraging but she will now also inspire #1 to get involved and create his own works too.

We get through miles of sticky tape and too many glue sticks to mention but the benefits far outweigh the clean up afterwards. It’s not easy these days to give our children the freedom they need to express themselves outdoors but I hope that by giving them freedom at home to loosen some shackles I can make up for other freedoms they may miss.

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