By Jason Parks
Anyone who is new to parenting knows the thrill and the curse of the developmental milestone. But how many of us parents, new or seasoned, take time to think about the creative milestone?
At two months, a kid should be cooing and making gurgling sounds. If your child won’t coo at three months of age, you worry. At five months, your little one might pass a block from one hand to the other. If so, you cheer! You now know that your child is clearly the chosen one. At the year mark, your kid may even begin to master the temper tantrum. This one leaves you a bit more emotionally conflicted. And so on. The CDC even has a Milestone Tracker App so you can keep a record of key moments in your child’s development.
If you have more than one child (four in our family), then you also know that the point at which your children hit those milestones can vary immensely. Some even start throwing tantrums well before a year. And others are babbling full sentences at nine months.
As a writer and English teacher, I must admit that my interest in language development has surpassed my excitement over any other milestone. Sure, walking and banging blocks is cool, but I was all about those first words. Will my child be a poet?
Now a decade into parenting, my perspective on milestones has changed. As I watch each of my children develop in their own ways, I’m finding myself thinking a lot more about what my children should be able to do creatively. When I say creatively, I want to emphasize that I am just as interested in what they can do with snap circuits or a recipe as I am in their ability to recite Shakespeare. (Although all four of my little ones can recite a few portions of King Lear’s speech on the heath. The chorus of four little ones shouting “Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” every time it storms is something I treasure.)
Making a list of your own
In a similar vein to the milestone chart, we have a chart on our pantry cupboard that lists out “old-fashioned” skills children should have at certain ages. It’s aptly titled, “40 Old-Fashioned Skills that Kids Should be Able to Do Today.” The chart includes skills like ‘how to read a map’ and ‘how to iron a shirt.’ I love this list because I can review it daily. My kids are 10, 8, 5, and 4, and there’s something for each of them on the list. It’s a very practical tool and a little more loosely defined set of milestones.
What I’ve been thinking more about lately is whether it might be worthwhile to develop a slightly different list, perhaps something like a list of “creative milestones.” While I haven’t worked out all the ways to chart this by age, I offer the following checklist (from a writer’s perspective) for you to consider. While you can decide which age your child might be expected to hit these milestones, I’d encourage you to try any of them whenever you can. The outcome isn’t as important as the process.
10 Creative Development Milestones
- Dress up as a character that he/she invented on their own.
- Make a wildflower bouquet
- Build a castle out of cardboard boxes
- perform a play or a puppet show (use paper bags or stuffed animals)
- Build a small fairy fort out of tree bark, acorns, rocks, leaves, etc.
- Write an ode to their favorite shirt (in the style of Pablo Neruda, this was inspired by my son)
- Improvise a story using a deck of storytelling cards. Of course, we love The Story Engine!
- Design a t-shirt (using a computer or paper)
- Create a maze (on paper or in the backyard!)
- Make up a dance move and teach it to someone
Let go of perfection
The key with this list, of course, is that you throw aside your expectations for any kind of perfection. You shouldn’t be filming these for posterity. Just as we don’t expect our child’s first steps to be anything more than a wobbly, forward trip into our arms, we must allow our children’s creativity to move at its own pace.
Even if you don’t have children or if your children are grown, feel free to use or make a similar list for yourself. I also invite you to respond with your own list of what you think are ‘creative development milestones.’ It’s never too late to start being creative, because creative development isn’t linear. I’ll also mention that, in our house, we abide by the phrase: “Make a mess, make a memory.” So get creative and make some messes. Those messes are milestones too.
Jason (J.R.) Parks is the author of the middle-grade novel Ari’s Poetics and the children’s fantasy series Rella PenSword and the Red Notebooks. The first book, The Wondercurrent, is a 300+ page fantasy/adventure for ages 10+. His second book in the series, The Unfinished City, is due to be released on June 16th, 2021. You can find him on twitter @jrparks321 or at www.parkswrites.com, where he and his wife Kendra Parks run a small press focusing mostly on children’s books.