Yesterday, at a teacher's training workshop, the instructor asked for a show of hands from those who felt they were creative. Only one-third responded, while others shied away with comments like, "I'm not artistic, can't draw, can't carry a tune." As if creativity only referred to the arts and to a mystical process known only to unique souls endowed with "talent" that they draw upon at midnight in their moonlit studios.

Webster's Thesaurus lists the following synonyms for creative: inventive, innovative, imaginative, ingenious, original, resourceful, clever, mystical. These are qualities needed in most every walk of life. They make the difference between automated response and truly human existence. They are qualities we want our children to feel comfortable and confident using to handle life's challenges. How can we develop, nurture, and support their creativity?

As an artist, mother, and teacher, I know how my life has been enriched by my ability to spend time tapping into the deep spring of creative ideas that resides in us all. I want my children and students to experience that process.

School is too often filled with rote learning and spitting back right answers. Television fosters passivity, shallow thinking, and the impression that life is full of easy answers that can fit into a 60-second sound bite. How can we encourage kids to think, explore and experiment?

Here are some suggestions gleaned from my classroom and family experience:

Provide lots of materials that the children can freely access. Paper, markers, crayons, glue, tape, scissors, Play Doh, simple musical instruments, puppets. (There are recycling centers with free or low-cost materials in all kinds of textures, shapes, and colors.) Offer open-ended construction toys like Legos, Tinker Toys, wooden blocks, Toobers and Zots.

Provide space. After Shabbat, our tablecloth is put away and our dining room table becomes our work space, filled with papers, scissors, and scraps. I am saddened by children living in beautiful homes where top dollar is spent to provide the best education, yet the children become prisoners of their possessions because everywhere is too nice to get messy.

Provide clothes for creating – clothes the children can be free in. I've taught preschoolers afraid to paint, "'cause mommy will be angry if I get dirty." Dress your kids so they can learn and play and do. (I, too, would be upset if an expensive blouse were ruined, so I buy as much of my kids' clothing as I can from yard sales, synagogue sales, and thrift shops. Beautiful designer finds can be had for a dollar, and I can throw a stained garment out with little remorse.) When my children come home messy, I tell them, "I see you had a good time. I'm glad."

Allow your children enough unstructured time. What may look like just fooling around may be important learning, dreaming, experimenting, integrating, and being time. I know a well-meaning mother of a bright little girl who shuttles her from lesson to lesson – art, music, sports, math enrichment – and hovers over her every move. The child has developed a passive attitude, always looking to adults for stimulation and validation. Children need time to develop their own inner resources and trust themselves.

Listen. Listen to your children's stories, visions and questions, feelings, fantasies, plays and music. Enter into their world. Expound on their ideas, write them down and read them back. Show that you value their inner world by sharing yours. Talk about your dreams and questions, those of your childhood and of the present. Children are fascinated by learning that parents are also growing and searching.

Model creative behavior. Children learn far more by what they see us do than by what we say. Let your kids see you having fun, "doing your thing." One reason I felt comfortable painting and drawing as a child is because I saw my father do it. Keep small instruments around the house, make music and try different sounds together. Most important, have lots of fun.

Brainstorm and problem-solve with the kids. Verbalize your dilemmas and questions (in an age-appropriate way): "Hmm. It's 2 o' clock, and I have five errands I want to run, but I have to be back by five o'clock to make dinner." Let them help you sift and prioritize. They often come up with great answers! Show them that adults also have to find solutions and take risks.

Expose your child to many modes of learning and expression. It is becoming widely accepted that our society's emphasis on left-brain linear thinking and analytical skills is but one piece of the cake. Musical, mathematical, sensory, nature-oriented, graphic and spatial-physical are all modes of learning. By exposing your children to many styles and experiences they will likely find their voice, and not feel frustrated and inadequate by being forced into a way that isn't their natural tendency, like a square peg squeezed into a round hole.

Unplugged time. Make sure enough free time is unplugged and unglued from the TV, VCR, video games, hand-held electronic games, and even the computer! I'm not talking here about the violence, commercials, and low moral and intellectual level of programs – that goes without saying. Even the best educational videos foster passivity. The computer, while having much educational potential, still involves sitting quietly in front of an electro-magnetic field, a certain detachment from the world, and a binary mode of thinking.

Experts agree that children learn most thoroughly by manipulating physical objects and using as many senses as possible – playing with blocks, water, paint, sand, etc. Computers do open many new vistas; just don't overlook the foundation of good ol' fashioned build and climb and run and balance and scribble and being time.

Now that your child (and maybe you and your inner child!) is designing block castles, finger-painting green sunsets, baking mud-pie extravaganzas and performing pot-and-pan-banging sonatas, I'll give you one more suggestion:

Praise descriptively. Minimize ratings like "good, be-you-ti-ful, gorgeous, stunning!" Why? Several reasons:

1) Try to get away from the good/bad, nice/ugly dichotomy. Even if you only use the positive, it's implying that there is a bad, ugly, boring, plain, stupid out there somewhere. The child often feels his work isn't that exceptional and may apply the negative. He also will feel pressured to come up with something outstanding or fall into the pit of BAD. This leads to the "I'm not creative, I can't draw" clam-up and withdrawal in so many older children and adults.

2) It's too easy. We can throw out a "gorgeous" without even looking up from our book. Instead: Look at the creation and describe enthusiastically what you see. For example: "I love these red squiggles going around, and look at all those blue dots in the middle!" There's no value judgment or rating, and the child knows you really entered into his work. Be process – not result – oriented. It doesn't matter if the picture of Grandpa looks like a blob with chickenpox. The child was engaged and trying to express something; don't give the feeling that a certain result must be achieved. The time engaged with the creative juices flowing is a pleasurable one that the child will want to repeat if she is not pressured or judged.

One of my students loves to sit on the floor singing to herself while freely covering a large paper with expressive, copious amounts of paint. She really loses herself in the colors and flowing brush strokes. I see her art in process; it's involved, concentrated, wonderful! Her mother has the challenge of reading backwards in time when she is handed a brownish blob paper (with colors that become dull when dried) by a paint-stained child. The end product – not that impressive; the creative process – incredible!

Display and enjoy your children's work in a relaxed atmosphere. If you value their efforts, they will too. A wall filled with a child's creations speaks volumes. As a young-un I remember thinking, "Oh, I'm an artist, 'cause Mommy hung up my pictures with her other paintings." In addition to the self-confidence, ingenuity and ability to express oneself we hope to foster, the creative experience can help develop sensitivity to spirituality. A child with a rich inner world can become oriented toward looking beyond the surface to the essence, and used to listening to his or her inner voice. Creativity can be used for a higher and deeper end than aesthetic beauty, being avant-garde, or the expression of self in the limited ego sense. The creative spark comes from the Creative Source, and has powerful potential if used to fulfill our Divine mission of being "co-creators" in making the world a dwelling place for G‑d, a place of spiritual goodness and beauty.

To have its spiritual power and potential fulfilled, our creativity should be inspired by true and deep sources. We don't have to turn to fairy tales, mythology, or pop culture. Let your child's muse be nourished from Torah stories, Midrash, the beautiful ideas of Ethics of our Fathers and Chassidic thought. The Aleph-Bet letters were (are) the building blocks of creation, that's a good place to start.