The average American parent spends hundreds of dollars on toys for their children each year, but the grandest of all “toys” is simply a well-developed imagination. Imagination turns sticks into swords, or spoons, or paddles, or a fire to warm your hands in the deep forest under the picnic table.
From my limited experience, imagination comes pretty naturally to children. My desire as a mom is to foster it and channel it toward what is good and true and beautiful.
Drawing from the excellent tongue-in-cheek advice in Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, I’m seeking to help my children’s imagination blossom. How? By reading them good stories, limiting their screen time, sending them into the great outdoors, not micro-managing every moment, and even letting them get bored occasionally.
One of the highlights of Will’s summer was catching and playing with frogs
How to Develop a Child’s Imagination
Read good stories
Stories ignite our imagination and shape our affections.
Sometimes imaginative play is lackluster. Sometimes it borders on depressive or mean or ugly.
Make time to pour in more good stories: stories where good conquers evil, true beauty is magnified, and truth is vindicated. Read stories that aspire to the noble and embrace the adventure in common things. (Here is a growing list of our favorite picture storybooks.)
Turn off the electronics
In his poetic rant against the television Roald Dahl claimed the TV
… ROTS THE SENSE IN THE HEAD!
IT KILLS IMAGINATION DEAD!
IT CLOGS AND CLUTTERS UP THE MIND!
IT MAKES A CHILD SO DULL AND BLIND…
Sometimes a movie is just the sanity-saving “babysitter” I need. With few exceptions though, electronics promote passive reception, not active imagination.
Maybe my kids are just weird, but even a short video dramatically decreases their ability to entertain themselves. So, in order to foster their imagination, usually I say “no” to more screen time.
Send them outside
Sometimes my kids drag their feet when I tell them it’s time to go outside to play. The funny thing is, it usually only takes five minutes in the great outdoors to become totally engrossed in play.
So, when they don’t want to play outdoors, I tell them to play for ten minutes and then I’ll let them come back inside. I can count on one hand the amount of times they’ve wanted to.
There’s something almost magical about being outside in the fresh air and sunshine. It helps clear a clouded brain and opens up a bright clear world of wonder.
Let them get bored
Don’t fill your schedule with so many structured activities and planned play dates that they don’t have time to just be kids. Kids need down time, just like moms. Let them run out of planned activities and be forced to think of ways to entertain themselves. (If they are stumped, here are some great non-electronic ideas to get their imaginative juices going!)
Don’t always micromanage everything
Have you ever read a kid’s book from decades ago and been shocked at the free-reign children were given (and how maturely they often handled it)?
My tendency is to be a mother-hen type mom. Joshua wisely encouraged me that it’s okay to let them learn to play together without my constant interaction.
Let them figure out their own games. Let them make up their own stories. Let them practice working together. Let them learn to say “please” and “sorry” without needing your reminder. By practicing managing themselves (with your presence nearby), they not only have a chance to gain maturity, they learn to let their imagination take wings.
Develop Your Child’s Imagination
Imagination turns a normal day into an adventure. It leads to discoveries and the loveliest of stories.
As parents, we should foster our children’s imagination through reading good stories, turning off the electronics (at least most of the time), sending them outdoors to play, letting them get bored (and discovering their own interests), and not always micro-managing their lives.
How do you foster your child’s imagination?
[Full disclosure: links to products in this post are my referral links.]