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How can we as parents encourage our children to be creative? In a society where life is all about careers and earning a living, creativity is often put on a back burner, if it receives any attention at all. However, nurturing creativity for kids is a crucial part of their lives that must not be ignored.
What exact role should creativity play in our kids’ lives, and what practical ways can we direct these efforts for the better? Justin Mashouf, an award winning Muslim director and producer based in Los Angeles, shares his journey with creativity, his career in film, and practical ways parents can nurture creativity in their children’s everyday lives.
Creativity Explored: Why Is It Important?
It is incredibly important for our children to explore their creative spirit, regardless of whether or not they choose a creative career path. This is because creativity allows a person to develop alternate ways of thinking. If one utilizes their creative abilities regularly from an early age, they are able to think in a way that is non-linear, to put themselves in others’ shoes and feel empathy.
Although there is value as well as necessity in technical fields such as engineering and medicine, ensuring that a child is able to express themselves creatively regardless of their career path only benefits their future, both within and outside of their work life. When one creates something that is then seen by another, it can become a form of humane understanding and connection that goes beyond things such as race, ethnicity, religion, and even gender or age. Creative expression surpasses all differences and fosters empathy and understanding.
Not too long ago, accessing the correct tools and obtaining the training and skills needed to engage in creative projects was difficult, especially for those not involved in media. Having a life of creativity explored was something nearly impossible unless you had the extra time and means.
However, content editing tools are now at our fingertips, allowing virtually everyone to publish their art for a global audience to consume and enjoy. This accessibility makes it easier for parents to encourage their children to explore their creative side without too much of a time investment.
With resources available on the internet, such as Noor Kids’ activities that foster creativity for kids, parents can also now easily access multiple sources of content to help aid their children in exploring their creative side.
Creativity is important not only because it engages the left side of the brain and encourages thinking that is different from analytical processes, but also because engaging in creative processes actually improves your right brain thinking! For instance, this study in Cerebral Cortex explores how creativity relies on the ability to turn remote concepts into novel and useful ideas, which comes from associative processing found in the right hemisphere.
The left side of the brain is involved in reading, writing, and calculation. It is often called the logical side of the brain. The right side of the brain, meanwhile, processes more images than words and does so intuitively. In an article by the Centre for Educational Neuroscience in England, left and right brain thinking is explored as are the differences between the two, how the two complement each other and work together, and how no person truly shows a particular inclination towards just one of them. Rather, every person is able to utilize both hemispheres in their daily lives at differing levels.
So children who regularly explore creative projects and storytelling will even improve in their study of subjects such as mathematics and physics! Thus, no matter what career path one chooses to pursue in the end, it is crucial for a child’s brain development and quality of life to engage in creativity in some way or the other throughout their lives.
What, then, is the value of creativity beyond simply improving school performance? Studies show that creativity:
- promotes cross-generational relationships and improves quality of life in the elderly
- improves life satisfaction in later life
- improves overall health and quality of life for those suffering from illnesses
- is interrelated to intelligence and improves quality of life at all stages
The value of representing your culture creatively
By encouraging your children to express themselves creatively, you can help them become part of a shift in representation of their culture. This is because media portrayals have an impact on how we are perceived and how we perceive others. When you watch a movie or a television show or view any kind of social media content, you are consuming that particular portrayal.
All creative content captures situations, cultures, people, lifestyles, and world views with the lens of the creators. Oftentimes, Muslims are portrayed in a negative light, and only mainstream cultural values are represented. This is dangerous not just for how Muslims are treated by others but also for how it can impact their views of themselves.
If a Muslim child constantly sees Muslims portrayed in a negative or stereotypical light, they will only come to feel ashamed of their identity or ashamed to face society due to how others may view them. On the other hand, if a Muslim child sees fellow Muslims portrayed not just in a positive light but in nuanced, realistic roles that speak truthfully to a Muslim’s daily life, then it is highly likely that this child will come to become confident in themselves and feel seen.
Gatekeepers, or those in positions of power in terms of media, are the ones whose visions and personal biases translate to the content that most of us consume; the media plays the role of feeding society an interpretation of reality by way of these gatekeepers. To change how Muslims (or any underrepresented culture) are represented, we will need more of them involved in the media as gatekeepers.
Fortunately, Mashouf has observed a shift recently, as we are, for the first time, beginning to see Muslim gatekeepers emerge, like Riz Ahmed and Hasan Minhaj, who have founded their own production studios. Such realistic media portrayals allow Muslims, especially Muslim children, to be seen. When you feel seen, you feel like you belong. When you feel like you belong, you are more likely to be confident in your own skin.
In other good news, streaming platforms created by Muslims for Muslims like Alchemiyya and USHUB, are allowing Muslims to become curators of their own content and utilize their resources to highlight values different from those of the mainstream media. And, no doubt, this is just the start. Muslims are a huge market (over 1.97 billion people in the world!) now demanding their own media outlets.
4 Ways of Inspiring Creativity in Our Kids
You might watch a piece of work, film or TV programming, with your children that is not necessarily Muslim. But you can take that opportunity to speak to values and speak to the goals and speak to the journey, and ask them to put themselves in the narrative and ask them, ‘What would you have done? And why is that better?’
- Justin Mashouf
Inspiring creativity in our kids is a sensitive endeavor. We must ensure our kids are able to access different modes of creative expression to figure out where their juices best flow. Creativity should not be forced upon them the way we sometimes have to enforce regular school studies. Rather, you want to nurture, encourage, and inspire creativity.
- Make a variety of creative sources available
When exploring a child’s creative inclinations, it is best to offer the option of multiple activities. This way, your child is exposed to enough forms of expression to find out what they enjoy best and will pursue it with interest. The creative juices that subsequently flow will make it more likely that he or she will then be dedicated to pursuing that art form consistently.
For example, Mashouf suggests, if you would like your child to play an instrument, provide them with the kiddie version of every instrument at a young age until you find out which one resonates with them. You can also provide your child with tools such as paints, oil colors, and more so they are better able to explore.
- Engage in creative expression with your child
Creative exploration need not be isolated, so take part in the process with your child! Similar to scaffolding in the classroom, a child sometimes needs a slight nudge to model after when engaging in creative activities. Nurturing creativity for kids can also serve as an excellent bonding activity for family time!
For instance, you can make videos with your child and encourage them to play-act different characters while you do the same! Give your creative kiddos pieces of the process, and let them do the decision making. Mashouf has found great success producing movies with his toddlers to the extent that his five year old now calls the shots!
- Keep it private!
There is value in sharing one’s content creation with the world. The more people can access your work, the more chances you have of encouragement, appreciation, and growth.
Of course, Mashouf warns against the dangers of publicly sharing your creative work such as raising expectations for likes and approval in the social media realm at an early age. Remember, creative work should be something that encourages self growth and expression. When creative work becomes too focused on getting attention, it can become detrimental. A study on the impact of obsessively gaining likes to the point of deceptive behaviors links it directly to lowered self esteem and lower feelings of belonging.
Extrinsic motivation, Mashouf notes, takes away from the beauty of creative expression. Meanwhile, when art is kept private, the validation comes from within and the art remains unadulterated.
- Encourage artistic endeavors
Encourage your child to share their creative work for good purposes by displaying their work, hosting a fundraiser, or giving them the option of donating their art for a cause in which they believe. These artistic endeavors allow your child to put their work out there, gain exposure, and feel proud of their work!
Creativity explored and shared with like-minded peers, like in Noor Kids’ online character building program, is a great source of creative growth in kids, and a chance for them to share their creative work with others and feel proud about themselves!
The book “How to Develop Student Creativity” is about the many ways to develop student creativity lists 25 strategies that both parents and teachers can utilize to encourage and nurture creativity in their children. Just a couple of these strategies are modeling creativity and challenging assumptions.
Creativity for Kids: A Takeaway
Countless studies have been conducted on the benefits of creativity all throughout one’s lifetime, spanning from early childhood, young adulthood, and even in old age. Creativity is more than just the right brain being used. It is the ability to inspire and relate to others, to express oneself, and to better ourselves in all parts of our lives.
Creativity for kids aids in their intelligence and quality of life, while creativity in old age helps the elderly relate to their children and grandchildren. All in all, we know that creative expression is an invaluable asset for every person to have, regardless of their career path, life choices, religious or ethnic background. There is a reason the humanities are related to the arts, as creativity is deeply embedded into each and every person’s human-ness.
In the podcast interview, award-winning filmmaker Justin Mashouf goes into even greater depth regarding his journey with creativity and the ways he practically nurtures creativity in his children. To learn more about nurturing creativity in your kids and the importance of media portrayals, listen to the Muslim Superdad & Wondermom podcast now on Google, Apple, Spotify, or wherever else you get your podcasts!
What are your thoughts on this episode? Share your reflections below!
- “The Honest Struggle” A Film by Justin Mashouf
- “Spring Movemenets” A Short by Justin Mashouf
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