When your four-year-old proudly presents you with a drawing of what looks like a baboon wearing a babushka boiling boomerangs on a beach, you have two choices. 

You can (1) crush their creative spirit. Or you can (2) catapult them into a world of imagination and innovation that will serve them well in all their endeavors for the rest of their lives. Here’s how to create creative kids, or, what to do when your kid brings you bad artwork. 

Creating creative kids

Your first fatherly response to their fantastical drawing is obvious. You oooh and aaah. But after that, you need to be a little more calculated with your response. Your next goal is to find out what is actually in the drawing without letting them know you don’t know.

Don’t say, “What is it?” Instead, invite the young artist up on your lap and say, “Wow. This is most excellent. Tell me about it.” Then start picking up on their verbal cues. Ask them open-ended questions that get them thinking and explaining. “How did you choose these two colors?” “These lines are straight and these are curvy. Why did you choose that?” The idea is to partner with them in the discovery of their own creative abilities and help them see how they have control over the creative choices they make.

You can even point out elements of their artwork that are bold and decisive even suggesting their efforts have led you to think new thoughts. Let them know that — like all great works of art — their masterpiece has given you a new perspective on life, the world, or some other grand concept.

Then comes the real moment of truth. After the creative brainstorming session is over the budding Picasso jumps down and says, “You can keep it Daddy.”

Uh-oh, now what?

Certainly, you say, “Thank you so much.” But then you need to figure out what to do with it. If you tape or pushpin it to the wall, it will stay there for a very long time. Trust me, even now I’m looking at a silly mustache man-made from pencil shavings and an orange-crayoned sports logo that should have been taken down long ago.

One option would be to convince the young artist that it would be “a perfect gift for mom!” Problem solved. Another option would be to post it on the fridge…which would also make it mom’s problem. If it’s truly delightful, you may want to have it professionally mounted and framed. (That’s a rare occurrence, but with the right piece of artwork suddenly you’ve got a forever keepsake.)

The best option is to accept it graciously and save it efficiently. On the back with a pencil put the date and the artist’s name, and then slide it into your child’s personalized file folder and drop it into your home filing cabinet. What if you don’t have a file folder with your child’s name on it? Make one. Don’t have a filing cabinet? Get one or pick up a cardboard “banker’s box” at your local office supply store.

When the artist comes back three days later inquiring about the whereabouts of the work of art, you can honestly say, “I saved it!” And even pull it out as proof. Of course, this whole art saving system only works with two-dimensional pieces. For sculptures, mobiles, woodworking projects, hats, masks, and models you’ll need an alternate (and perhaps more ruthless) system.

Once you’ve established that personalized file folder for each of your kids, you’ve got a bonus receptacle for all kinds of memorabilia. What else can you shove into a 9×12 file folder? Report cards, concert programs, math quizzes, school awards, team rosters, notes they left for you, notes you left for them, newspaper clippings, Father’s Day cards, movie tickets, menus, and memorabilia from any adventure you share over the years.

When you come home from an outing with a program in your pocket, suddenly you have a place for it. Your child’s name is printed on it so you don’t want to throw it away, but you also don’t want it cluttering your kitchen counter or credenza. Just slip it in the file folder.

Be warned, when that folder gets about an inch thick it will contain more than a few minutes’ worth of memories. So don’t pick it up and start leafing through it unless you have plenty of time to let the years of memories wash over you.

He has filled them with the skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers. —Exodus 35:35 (NIV) 

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