Arts and crafts are, like anything else, more or less creative depending on the approach you take. To use art as a way to strengthen your imagination and boost your innovativeness, make sure you avoid the normal follow-the-instructions activities. Most of the published arts and crafts arts activities you can do with your kids are based on templates and cut-outs, or have specific end-goals in mind such as an example of what you're supposed to create. These activities, sadly, work against your and your kids' creativity, not for it! Instead, try very open-ended artistic challenges, such as:
1. Gather small objects and see what you can make out of them.
The wilder the idea or the crazier the design, the better! Turning a large soda bottle, some popsicle sticks, and the cut-off tops of some smaller soda bottles into a space-ship of your own design is a great exercise in innovative thinking. Building a model of the Space Shuttle from a kit is not.
2. Experiment with multiple techniques.
Challenge your kids, and yourself, to draw five different pictures of your house using five completely different methods or materials. You can draw it with a pencil, cut out a profile of it with scissors (which become your drawing tool), lay out the floor plan on a computer, photograph parts of it and collage them into a bigger picture, or draw an ant's eye "map" of the house. Then put up an art show to display the many different ways you and your child came up with to show your house through art. The lesson is that there are always many ways to approach a task.
3. Redesign famous works of art.
Find a cheap poster of the Mona Lisa or download and print an image of it, and let your child cut it up and make a new picture. What would she look like if she had a kitten on her lap? If she was wearing a top hat? This activity encourages you and your child to reconsider established ideas and designs—an essential behavior of successful innovators.
4. Make a home movie documenting wild and crazy ideas and inventions in your community.
With an inexpensive flip-video camera or a video cell phone, sally forth to find and comment on creative efforts and ideas around you. Visit the school, the town hall, a neighbor who has added solar panels to her house, or a dance studio where someone is choreographing a new performance. Capture brief interviews and live commentaries, then work with your child to edit them into your very own film on creativity. This activity exercises the ability to recognize innovations and the use of creative judgment and editorial decision-making.
5. Make musical instruments with your kids out of found objects, such as containers from the recycling bin and rubber bands.
To bump up the activity to another level of challenge, you could also try to tune your instruments to a standard scale. This activity presents two sets of challenges: first building the instruments, and then coming up with fun compositions that you can perform on them. It is a great exercise in the creative use of limited resources.
And all of these creative projects bring you through a creative process that is very open-ended at the beginning—they can go anywhere, and no two families will produce the same end result. By persisting, you and your child create structure to what you've imagined, and in the end, produce something concrete that you can both be proud of. The best way to strengthen your innovation muscles is to actually do something innovative and see it through to successful completion
Alex Hiam is the author of more than 20 popular books on business, including Business Innovation for Dummies (June 2010).