Find out the many fantastic ways that parents could foster their child’s imagination.
Imagination is an important, but often overlooked, tool for a child’s growth and development. By age three or four years old, a child learns imaginative play. At this age, children can start using toys or other materials in other ways instead of what it was originally intended for. For example, a pillowcase can become a superhero’s cape, a jump rope handle can turn into a microphone, or a shoebox could zoom off as a spaceship.
By school age, however, imagination and fantasy play can be discouraged by parents and teachers as daydreaming, and be deemed as unproductive behavior. The truth is that imagination fosters creativity and curiosity, which are valuable traits that even grownups should possess.
Imagination has been found to boost intellectual growth, because children who can see mounds of sand as castles, or stacks of logs as a fortress learn to think symbolically, which is important in grasping math and language concepts. Imaginative role playing also fosters empathic behavior, because children learn to think and feel like a person or character they are portraying. Further, imagination helps children to think through difficult situations by recognizing possible outcomes to their actions.
Watching TV, playing computer games, and logging on to social networking sites take up so much of children’s time nowadays that they do not get to stretch their imaginations. With TV and computers, everything is already there, and the child does not have to visualize characters or story outcomes. Parents may want to offer children more opportunities to think creatively for themselves by tuning out the TV and offering more creative alternatives.
Here, we give some easy ways for parents and their children to bond better, using their imaginations.
1. Ask what-if questions. After reading a book, or watching a show, parents can ask their children questions about how the story may have ended differently. Questions like, “what if the hero arrived a few minutes earlier at the train station?” or “What if people still believe that the earth is flat?” would give the child opportunities to voice out his opinions while practicing some analytical thinking.
2. You can also ask them “What happens next?” Parents and children can take turns telling a story. At each dramatic point of the story, the storyteller passes the narration to the next person, who begins with the words, “and then…” The story can take many twists and turns, offering more and more imaginative means to make the story even more exciting! After reading their favorite bedtime story, you can also ask them what happens to the characters after “the end”. Questions, like, “What happens to Cinderella’s stepsisters after she marries the prince and moves into the castle?” or “Where did Goldilocks go after she ran away from the three bears?” will start the imagination ball rolling.
This activity holds many benefits for children. Storytelling lets them create vivid images in their minds, and activates the thinking process, because it trains the mind to connect events with each other. Children who participate in these storytelling games are also required to listen because they will need to know which direction the story is headed.
1. Get scribbling. Scribbling is a good imagination enhancer because it lets children create without any boundaries. With doodles, there are no patterns they the have to follow, and their imagination is their only guide to drawing what they want. It is also a constructive or good form of therapy, because it helps them to express their emotions in a subtle way. One person could scribble random loops and lines on a piece of paper, and the other players try to look for items that the lines and curves may form. This game challenges children to think creatively and to take another look. There is also a game called droodle, where the adult will draw an item from a different view and the children will creatively guess what the item is. For example, a small circle within a larger circle can be a Mexican sombrero. There are no right answers to Droodle riddles so the contestants can give their silliest guesses! (you can check out www.droodles.com for ideas).
2. Let them draw. If their children are fond of watching cartoons on weekends, parents can offer a sketchpad and pencils for children to make their own cartoons. They can give their characters superpowers or put them in humorous circumstances. Children can animate their world, by drawing familiar situations, or creating a whole new universe using their art tools. Art can be a good therapy for school stress and it can also be an outlet for creative tendencies.
1. Pretend you are on TV: One great way to exercise imagination while practicing public speaking skills at the same time is to pretend that you are on TV, whether doing imaginary reporting on the news, hosting a pretend travel show, interviewing a Hollywood star, or cooking in front of a live audience. Children will enjoy “acting” or “hosting” in front of the camera, with mom or dad as the “production crew”. Parents might even discover that their children have a talent made for TV. Offer age-appropriate books.
2. Books for the pre-adolescent child have been described as the last bastion of imagination. They can bring the child on fantastic journeys without the reader even leaving the armchair. Through good books, children can picture the character’s appearance and the way he talks and walks. There are even books that let older children “choose their own adventures” based on story-based decisions that they make. They then get directed to the next page they have to turn to continue their quest.
Some good children’s books that encourage imagination include:
- Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judith Barett
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
- The Marshmallow Incident by Judith Barett
- The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
- In The Night Garden by Barbara Joosse
- Marveltown by Bruce McCall
3. Encourage role-playing. Smaller children who loved acting out the part of Cinderella or Tarzan might suddenly feel self-conscious about role play, but it can be a good tool for tackling touchy topics and dealing with new and difficult situations like bullying, making new friends, or saying no to strangers. Parents can talk to teachers about incorporating more role-playing activities in class, or offer a day for role reversals, where the child can be “mom for the day” and humorously act out silly stories about home.
Working on Their Own
1. Pick a project. Parents can offer their children art materials and some old recyclable materials that are just lying around. They can challenge the child to create something new and useful using simple things such as tissue rolls, cereal boxes, paper plates, or clothespins A paper plate with glued-on button eyes and yarn hair can become a talkative puppet, a stack of mini cereal boxes and cardboard tubes glued together can transform into a powerful robot – the possibilities are endless! This activity not only teaches the importance of recycling, but allows children to stretch their imaginations in order to produce something new. This can also be a cost-effective and more personal way for children to make greeting cards for special occasions, or even make festive decorations and giveaways for parties.
2. Let them experiment. Children can do simple experiments around the house about topics that they are curious about. Simple scientific experiments can teach older children to formulate hypotheses and find imaginative ways to form their conclusions. Asking questions about why ants always march in a straight line, or how fish breathe underwater will teach them to make a deduction, and to observe the animals closely so they can find the answers.
Entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, writers, and even people with office jobs benefit from thinking out of the box. People with their own businesses can craft ideas on how to make their products better, musicians can use their imagination when interpreting their pieces, writers with vivid imaginations can make the words fly out of the page! Even employees of a company can think of ways to make their work easier and more efficient. Adults imagining where they would want to be in five year’s time can also motivate them to achieve their goals. These are all good reasons why parents may want to give their older children more leeway when it comes to using their imaginative powers.