Fostering Children’s Creative Growth

Published on: March 17, 2021

Have you ever wondered about the best ways to encourage your child to grow creatively? Piyachat Finney writes about the ways you can be successful in doing this.

By Piyachat Finney

As a parent or caregiver, we all strive to boost our children’s creative growth to the best of our abilities. However, being a facilitator for your child’s creative growth is not as easy as it sounds, and often we are left wondering, how can I provide a safe space for self-expression in a creative process?  

There are a few key ingredients for success.  Judith Rubin, a developmental art therapist, views that the provision of limits and structures are the core essentials of the framework for freedom.  She cites, “Limits define the boundaries of the relationship and tie it to reality…they offer security and at the same time permit the child to move freely and safely in his play.” (Moustakas, 1959, p.11).

Let us begin with creating an environment where children can explore freely and safely.  Provide a clear boundary, whether it be on the table or on the floor.  You may cover this surface with a plastic mat or rug to define a boundary, and use masking tape to secure its placement.  Develop guidelines together with the child’s input. For example, “You may do whatever you want as long as you do it on the mat and keep yourself safe.  What else would you like to add on?”  

Secondly, provide a variety of materials. Harriet Wadeson, a pioneer art therapist who emphasised on art as a process, pointed out that each art medium provides different degrees of control and expression.  See the picture for a list of materials that range from providing the most control but the least expressiveness, to the least control and the most expressiveness.

For each session, you may want to provide 3-4 choices of materials.  

The process itself involves three stages—  warm-up, action and sharing.   

The purpose of warm-up exercises is to help loosen up movement-wise so that a sense of spontaneity and playfulness can be achieved.  One can also facilitate a warm-up to inspire imagination.  Warm-up exercises can begin with physical movements to get circulation going; then you may lead on to any creative ideas. For example, “If you were to be a tree, what kind of tree would you be? If each member of our family is an animal, which animal would you, mom, dad, sister, and/or brother be?” This latter example may help in investigating how a child perceives the character of each family member. One may also suggest moving like those animals before a child gets down to drawing the animals and their surroundings. Once the stage for creativity is set, as a facilitator, you step back, but stay present and silently witness the process unfold respectfully.  

In the action or creating art stage, the facilitator needs to take into account the developmental stage of the child.  Jean Piaget, a Swiss developmental psychologist, defined four stages as follows:

  1. Sensorimotor stage (0-2 years): Children in this stage experience the world through movement and their senses. They are extremely egocentric, meaning they cannot perceive the world from others’ points of view.
  2. Pre-operational stage (2-7 years): This stage starts when the child learns to speak around the age of two and lasts until the age of seven. Such children do not yet understand concrete logic.  Between the ages of two to four, they find themselves using symbols to represent physical models of the world around them (the stage of symbolic functions); their drawings are not drawn to scale.  Then from the age of four to seven, children tend to become very curious and ask many questions (the stage of intuitive thought). This is when they begin the use of primitive reasoning.
  3. Concrete operational stage (7-11 years):  By this stage children can usually understand the concept of conservation and think logically.  They are no longer egocentric.  
  4. Formal operational stage (11-16+):  Children at this stage develop abstract thoughts and can easily understand conservation, use rationality and think logically in their minds. 

Keeping these developmental stages in mind, a biological-psychological-social model that helps children explore their thoughts, feelings and experiences relating to various real-life events and scenarios can be used to facilitate the creation of art. This model also enhances what Rubin called ‘Awareness, Expression, and Acceptance’.

Let us take the example of a child’s experience of his/her mother’s pregnancy and the subsequent arrival of a new sibling. From a biological point of view, the themes that could be focused on for the child to express himself through art include awareness or observations of the medical procedures and check-ups associated with the pregnancy. Psychological aspects include but are not limited to how they feel upon the arrival of a newborn sibling—happiness, sadness, fears, worries, anger or hurt. The social aspects would be sibling interactions, relationships within the family, etc. Other situations that may also be similarly explored and expressed through art include but are not limited to relocation (moving houses), friendships, going to school for the first time, etc.

As for sharing, a facilitator should refrain from making judgmental statements, and instead opt for open-ended questions and discussions.  You should aim to explore the child’s feelings, prompting him/her to reflect on the different ways of coping with the situations he/she finds him/herself in.  Comic strips, for example featuring three panels to explain ‘what happened’, ‘how they feel about it’ and ‘possible outcomes’ are particularly effective in exploring coping mechanisms and choices.

These are just a few suggestions, however.  Most importantly, as a facilitator of the creative process, you must trust yourself and your child.  Being too rigid about rules, even with good intentions, can put a damper on the creative process.  As Rubin explains it, “It is mostly about growing effectively, about gaining awareness, understanding, acceptance, liking and control of one’s feeling-self through art.  Growth in art includes perceptual, motor, cognitive and social development as well.” (Rubin, 1984, p.17). Provide a safe environment, and the art of the creative process will unveil itself in front of you.

Recommended Reading

Rubin, Judith Aron (1984) The Art of Art Therapy New York, Brunner/Mazel, Inc

Rubin, Judith Aron (1984).  Child Art Therapy: Understanding and Helping Children Grow Through Art.  New York, USA: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.  


Moustakas, C.E. (1959).  Psychotherapy with Children.  New York: Ballantine Books.

Rubin, Judith Aron (1984).  Child Art Therapy: Understanding and Helping Children Grow Through Art.  New York, USA: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company.

Wadeson, Harriet (1980). Art Psychotherapy.  New York: John Wiley and Sons Ltd.

Wikipedia Jean Piaget –  


Photo by Phil Hearing on Unsplash.

About the author

Piyachat Ruengvisesh Finney is a US licensed marriage & family therapist and mental health counselor.  She utilizes art psychotherapy and other creative processes to access individuals’ internal resources to bring about changes, as well as investigates intergenerational patterns to assist clients in gaining further insights. Contact: and

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