This piece, by Christine Elgersma for Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that aims to help kids and parents navigate the world of media and technology, tackles something that occurs to me constantly. How can we use screens and technology with our kids in the right way? Obviously, they can’t ignore it, nor should they. Here, Elgersma outlines ways they can create rather than just vegetate. [reprinted with permission] — Amy Joyce
During a typical day, kids and teens check out YouTube, watch TV, play video games, scroll through social media feeds, and listen to music. Overall, they’re passive consumers of the content they love — which is fine. But with a little nudging — and the right tools — they can be using that time to build creative skills while sharing their stories, opinions and ideas.
Kids actually love to express themselves, but sometimes they feel as though they don’t have much of a voice. Encouraging your kid to be more of a maker might just be a matter of pointing to someone or something they admire and giving them the technology to make their vision come alive. No matter your kids’ ages and interests, there’s a method and a medium to encourage creativity.
If they have a story to share
As soon as kids start talking, it’s great to get them to tell stories. For younger kids, encourage them to narrate their activities as they build, climb and pretend by asking questions such as, “What are you building? Who will use it? Tell me about your adventure!” There are also apps that let kids record their stories as they play. With older kids, some will naturally put pencil to paper, but others take a bit more prodding. For those kids, digital book creation can make their writing process feel more grown-up and tangible. Having a real audience also shows kids that their writing can matter, so tweens and teens can use sites and apps where they can share creations, and they can even riff off their obsessions in the form of fan fiction. Finally, if your tween or teen has strong opinions about issues or interesting people in their lives, they can use tools to document and share those stories, too.
- For younger kids: Toca Life: School, Diary Zapp, Me by Tinybop; Storybird
- For older kids: Write About This, Book Creator, Scholastic Kids Press Corps, StoryCorps, We Are Here DIYdoc
If they have a directorial vision
For kids who love to watch television and movies (spoiler: Most do!), it can be exciting for them to get in on the action. When they’re younger, kids love to combine their toys with storytelling, which is not unlike directing a movie. To share those stories, they can play around with animated storytelling apps that let them record a mini-movie with movable characters, props and settings. As they get older, stop-motion animation might be more their jam, and there are apps for that, too. And if you’d prefer tweens and teens to not have their own YouTube channels but you want to encourage the fun of making videos, there are tools that let kids record, edit and share in a more limited way.
- For younger kids: Toontastic 3D, Lipa Theater: Story Maker
- For older kids: Goldieblox and the Movie Machine, SKIT! Kids — Video Maker, VidMaker — 3D MovieMaker for Kids, Magisto
If they have an inner artist
When your kid is naturally artistic, it probably won’t take much prompting to get them to draw or paint. But sooner or later, they’ll want to expand their horizons. If your little kid loves to color, give them more inspiration with apps that introduce famous artists. Older kids who don’t claim to be artists but love superheroes, comics or manga can create their own cartoons with panels, dialogue balloons and unique characters. Even emerging fashion designers can find a tool to help them express their inner Versace. Of course, for tweens and teens, there are more advanced digital drawing and painting products to create sophisticated designs.
- For younger kids: ExplorArt Klee — The Art of Paul Klee, for Kids, PlayART by Tapook
- For older kids: Comics Head Lite — Create Your Own Comic, Strip Designer, Art Set, Procreate
If they have an ear for music
Most kids love music right out of the womb, so transferring that love into creation isn’t hard when they’re little. Banging on pots and pans is a good place to start — but they can take that experience with them using apps that let them play around with sound. Little kids can start to learn about instruments and how sounds fit together into music. Whether they’re budding musicians or just appreciators, older kids can use tools to compose, stay motivated and practice regularly. And when tweens and teens want to start laying down some tracks, they can record, edit and share their stuff.
- For younger kids: Duckie Deck Homemade Orchestra, Bandimal, Mussila
- For older kids: Moana: Rhythm Run, The Orchestra, Bandblast, Coach Guitar Chords Tuner Tabs, Piano Practice with Wolfie, GarageBand
If they have the next big game idea
Learning to code may seem intimidating, but there are a ton of fun apps that teach programming basics in a way that doesn’t feel like work. Young kids who learn to code get introduced to ideas such as cause and effect, thinking ahead, and how little steps add up to a final product. When they’re older, they can make and share simple games using some basic block-coding tools. Tweens and teens can learn actual coding languages so they can create more complex games.
- For younger kids: Code Karts, codeSpark Academy, TinyTap
- Older kids: Scratch, ScreenPlay — program your story, Hopscotch, Swift Playgrounds, SoloLearn: Learn to Code
If they don’t consider themselves to be creative
Some kids are sure they don’t have a creative bone in their bodies — but they’ll play Minecraft for hours. Others will turn their noses up at art — but will jump at the chance to design a robot. If this sounds like your kid, rest assured that — no matter their age — their bones are actually brimming with creativity. Even if kids aren’t painting masterpieces, playing the trombone or writing the next hit for Netflix, there are lots of ways for them to make things, especially using digital tools. Any app that requires kids to create a world or creature — especially those that allow them to test their designs — teaches the creative process. Even silly apps that only focus on the process and not the product can free up kids who might feel stuck.
Covert creative tools
- For younger kids: Plum’s Creaturizer, Dr. Panda Plus: Home Designer, The Robot Factory by Tinybop, Blox 3D World Creator
- For older kids: Diary Zapp, Minecraft, The Tune Zoo, DIY App — Creative Community for Kids, Scribblenauts Remix, SoundForest, Orb