Has your child ever flown a unicorn right out of the house? Forged a peace treaty with thimble-sized aliens? Or become the first person to open a fast casual fondue restaurant on the moon?
It’s all possible…with a little imagination.
When you have a strong imagination, you’re able to think of a situation, and then transform it into something different — using only the power of your mind! This can obviously lead to some super-fun playtime sessions for your kids right now, but it can also benefit them in all sorts of real-world, grown-up ways throughout their lives.
Just think about it. People of all ages use imagination to accomplish things like inventing new technologies, creating original works of art, or conceiving of crazy s’more-donut hybrid breakfast treats that take the nation by storm.
You know you want a s’monut, people.
And you should also want to foster your child’s imaginative skills right now. That’s because kids who exercise their imaginations more tend to:
- Be happier — since they’re better able to entertain themselves and less likely to become bored when left alone.
- Have better social skills — since pretending helps them understand the minds of others, which is an important ingredient of successful social interaction.
- Understand emotions — since kids can use imagination to envision innovative solutions to real-life problems, provide an outlet for their emotions and boost self-esteem.
- Think wisely — since holding lots of things in mind simultaneously while imagining can boost brain skills like planning, focus, memory and logical reasoning.
- Be more creative — since kids who score highly in imaginativeness and fantasy play in elementary school tend to be more creative through high school as well.
Because imagining is so important to your kids, you might be wondering if there’s anything you can do to help them get better at it. Well, of course there is! Just close your eyes and imagine doing all this:
- Reading books
Reading and discussing books gives your children a greater understanding of how stories are put together, and how they might create their own.
- Telling stories
In addition to reading lots of books, our kids love to hear stories “from our minds” too. These off-the-cuff tales — fantastical ones from our imaginations, and remembered ones from our childhoods — demonstrate that anyone can generate stories and that they’re fun to create and share.
- Dressing up
With the simple addition of a cape, crown, clown nose or cowboy hat, your child can imagine what it’s like to become a whole different person (at least for a little while). And when parents participate in kids’ imaginative play, it can last longer and contain more complex themes and stories. But try not to take over — stop and observe before you join in, and be sure to let your little one lead the pretending as much as possible.
- Playing games
Games create opportunities for family fun, plus hone useful skills like critical thinking, planning, problem-solving and imagination. Here are a few particularly inventive examples:
- The “What If” Game: During down times like sitting at the dinner table or waiting in line at the supermarket, pose a fantastical “What if…” question to your kids and see how they answer. “What if a fairy landed in the middle of the table right now?” “What if people had eight fingers on each hand?” “What if you actually cleaned your room without whining about it for once?” In this game, anything is possible.
- “Conclude the Doodle” Game: Take turns drawing line fragments — like a jagged line, curlicue or semicircle — and then challenge each other to fill in an entire picture around it. Dare your little one to test her imagination by creating something unexpected and adding lots of extra detail.
- Daniel Tiger’s “Let’s Make Believe” Game: If your kiddos are reluctant to engage in make-believe play, this free online game — which asks players to help Daniel Tiger choose fun, imaginative play scenarios to act out — might just give them the encouragement they need.
- Having some real-life adventures
Exploring varied environments like museums, gardens, waterfronts and treetops can expose your kids to true experiences that will help inspire and expand their imaginations.
- Stocking up on open-ended materials
Unlike many commercial toys, playthings like blocks, markers, paper, balls and clay don’t have to be used in a single, fixed way. So keep plenty of these materials around for children to experiment with. Add a little imagination, and their possibilities are absolutely endless.
- Scheduling some free time
Kids need their imaginations most when there is absolutely nothing else to do. So give your busy little bees frequent breaks from their all-too-easily overloaded schedules. Let them play independently, with no structured activities or high-tech toys and screens to distract them — and you’ll be amazed at what your kids dream up.
How do you inspire your kid’s imagination?