The secret to fostering creativity in children

The Secret to Fostering Creativity in Kids (Hint: Go Outside)

If I asked you to do something “creative” I bet you would run for the paint supplies, a drawing pad or maybe something musical. When we ask our children to get creative the same thing happens -  they head straight for the modeling clay, sheets of paper, markers, or a mountain of popsicle sticks.

But what if I told you that true creativity is way different from all of this?

Now, of course, there is nothing wrong with any of the above activities. They all encourage creative and imaginative processing. However, true creativity does need designed activities and more items from our local art supply stores.

Creativity, in its most natural state, is all about freedom. When children are given the freedom to be creative without the restrictions of structured activities, they experience growth that can’t be replicated by the clever craft goodies.

And this freedom is KEY for developing their brains.

The best part is you don’t have to spend tons of money to nurture this experience for your little ones. The great outdoors is all you need!

creativity activities for kids - big life journal

In nature, kids are able to develop their brains through imaginative, innovative, whole-body experiences that research has linked to higher cognitive function. To put it simply, in nature our children are FREE to GROW (especially their brains)! 

For more brain-building and creativity-boosting activities head over to our Growth Mindset Activity Kit.

growth mindset activity kit kids printable

HOW does this work?

The answer is simple. In the natural world, children are provided with a sensory rich and sensory balanced environment. They can touch different textures. Smell the perfumes of the flowers, trees, and leaves. Hear the majestic sounds of the birds, the breeze rustling the leaves creating musical tones. They can see colors that are beyond what is available in a paint pallet.  And if they are lucky enough, they can eat fruit from the trees.

The natural world affords children the opportunity to be CREATIVE and IMAGINATIVE with all that is before them. Children can generate ideas, take the lead, problem solve, take risks, and develop their self-confidence.

A stick is no longer a stick - it is a wand, a sword, a spoon for stirring muddy soup. Their teacher did not tell them what to do with that stick nor did mom and dad determine its use – what the stick becomes is entirely their own idea. According to Angela J. Hanscom, Author of Balanced and Barefoot, all of this helps children to “form important neural (brain) connections.”


Today, many parents find it a struggle to get their children outside. Angela J. Hanscom, author of Balanced and Barefoot, states “the amount of time children spend in unstructured play has decreased by 50%.” While many factors may contribute to this, perhaps the most common is that in our high-tech modern world, we are becoming less conscious of our need for nature.

So, what can you do to inspire your child to get excited about being outside?


Set sometime aside each day and make a NO SCREEN time rule! Create a time-limit and a safe space for exploration and innovation.


It is a case of monkey see, monkey do! If your child sees you enjoying nature and developing a connection with it, they might also want to. Show them how to appreciate the colors, the sounds, the textures. Talk about the outdoors with them. Spark their curiosity.


Re-evaluate your outdoor space. Are there opportunities for free, unstructured play outside where your child can create, invent, and explore? Sometimes all it takes is a mud kitchen, a sandpit, or a vegetable garden to inspire curiosity and creativity.

If your living space is without a yard, you can research local playgrounds, national parks, and natural spaces where your child can put their creativity to work. It is also important you and your child understand the risks of the outdoors in your region, so your child can safely play with a sense of freedom.

nature development learning creativity - big life journal


Now let’s look at some age-specific activity ideas you can explore with your child.

AGE 0-5


This is a great way to introduce smaller children to exploring with natural materials. By simply gathering twigs and sticks and a handful of the leafiest parts from a variety of plants, you can create your very own textured homemade paint brushes.

Watch as your child’s expression and imagination come alive! This is also beneficial for their fine motor development and eye and hand coordination.


Every child loves to role-play and get into character! So grab a tote bag, put on some outdoor gear, and go on a nature walk with your child. Gather safe materials that capture your child’s attention, such as sticks, flowers or bark.

Using recycled paper, cut strips to fit the circumference of your child’s head and invite your child to glue their nature collection onto the paper. Once dry, your King or Queen can have some fun ruling the world with their Nature Crown!

Role-playing builds confidence, creativity, communication skills and allows children to problem-solve and try new things.

AGE 5-8


Sticks are known as the World’s Oldest Toy providing endless opportunities to develop creativity and to have fun! Sticks allow children to engage in unstructured and free-play, which is the perfect recipe for a child’s creativity - just keep an eye on the little ones!


This could be as simple as a neighborhood walk, or a planned hike on a trail. Observe the weather, the sounds of the birds and the texture and smells in the air. To make it a little more fun, ask your child to bring a small art journal and a pencil so they can draw their observations!


Mud Kitchens are a great way for your child to engage their senses, think creatively, problem-solve and effectively communicate with others through the process of role-playing. Children can also develop their mathematical skills through measuring and mixing various sand and water quantities too.

An unexpected bonus: happy hours of sampling mud pies and mud soups that have been ‘specially’ made – just for you!


Create a safe space in your backyard and provide age-appropriate recycling materials such as cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, and egg cartons. Your child will be able to spend endless hours creating forts, cubby houses, boats, and other fascinating pieces of architecture and design. This will help your child to develop their confidence, take risks, and to be innovative! 


AGE 8-11

This age group tends to be trickier to navigate as nature must compete with technology. However, as suggested by Richard Louv, author of Vitamin N, the aim should not be to get rid of technology altogether but to allow children to experience nature to the fullest and use technology where appropriate.


Grab a blanket. Some snacks. And lay outside in the backyard and observe the sky. To make it a little more high-tech, grab the telescope. Encourage your child to write down in a notebook what they observe in the sky.


If your child loves visual creativity, provide opportunities for them to take photos in their own backyard, the forest, or a national park. Encourage them to observe the trees, flowers, bugs, or birds. Print the photos! Create a fun vernissage at home to show off your child’s creativity to family and friends.


Create nature inspired art pieces. Make stick animals, leaf faces, landscapes from sticks, leaves and flower petals. Create your own nature-based textile patterns by tapping flower petals into sheets of cloth. Design costumes. Create insects with acorns, gum nuts, and sticks. Nature art provides endless creative possibilities.

You can find some more fun ideas to encourage your child to go outside and foster their creativity through nature with our ‘My Adventures in Nature Bingo’ Printable from our Growth Mindset Printables Kit. 

adventures nature bingo - big life journal


Children are designed for creativity and there is no better way to nurture this than through the freedom provided by nature. Immersed in this freedom, their brains develop in remarkable ways unmatched by any of the conveniences and gadgets offered by the modern world.

So, go ahead and get them out there! Encourage them to use their imaginations and satisfy their curiosity in the endless marvels of greenwood – and as you do, know that you are giving them the best brain training they could ever get!

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