5 Ways to Foster Your Child’s Imagination

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.

Of all the gifts we can give our children, a well-developed imagination is one of the best. Here are five ways to foster it.

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.

A good imagination is an incredible gift we can help foster in our children. (Sadly, good imaginations seem to be on the decline in much of the modern world.) Here are five strategies to help make sure your child doesn't lose this precious gift.

photo credit

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.]

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Comments

  1. says

    I wish more people would let their children explore their imagination! I wish they would quit letting them watch so many movies when they say they are “bored.” I wish they would read stories and pretend things! I started when my niece was still really small to pretend when we read stories. It just came naturally to me I guess since I have a very active imagination. We pretended to “eat” the food on the pages or we would “pet” the animal pictures. We’d talk about what car was ours and who drove the other ones on the page. Then we’d “go camping” on the living room floor. We’d pretend to be the characters in a book we just read while we ate dinner. Oh, there are so many ways and it’s such fun! My nephews pretend just as much as my niece did. The three–year-old has by far the best imagination! What other child his age would tell you with a straight face that there was a hippopotamus outside in the yard and then would wave to him when he passed a window? (He did tell me confidentially that there really wasn’t one out there; he was just pretending.)

    Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox. :P Loved the post, Anna.

    • anna says

      I don’t mind sharing the soapbox with you, Bekah! :-) Thanks for all the fun ideas! We had to work with Will at one point to make sure that he let us know that he was teasing, because his imagination and memory are both so active, that sometimes he’d imagine some very vivid “memories”—

  2. says

    I whole-heartedly agree, Anna! I’ve noticed that when we do let our children watch a video, especially if it is longer than usual, they come away from the screen with this disengaged, glazed over look. Maybe it is just our children, but that alone continues to encourage my hubby and me to strictly limit screen time.

    When I hear the words “I’m bored”, I like to offer housework as a solution. ;)

  3. says

    It is amazing how little imagination people can have, my favourite activity when my kids were little if it was raining to go outside and find puddles and just have fun to splash in, it relieved boredom from feeling trapped inside. It seems to be missing with computers and tv’s and all other electronics.

    • anna says

      My kids would love to live at your house, lol! I’m not very good about letting them go out and play in the rain because it seems to take hours and hours to clean up afterward. But, next summer, I plan to give it another go now that they’re a bit older. I’m sure they’d LOVE it!

  4. says

    Great tips!

    My parents didn’t let us watch very much (if any) TV as kids and this was back before the internet was around… we often had to figure out ways to entertain ourselves.

    I remember that whenever I would tell my mom that I was bored, she’d always say “You’re too smart to be bored!”

    Sometimes, she’d suggest a few ideas for activities, other times, it was up to me to come up with ways to keep myself occupied.

    cheers,

    Mary

    • anna says

      We hardly watched an TV growing up either. Complaining of boredom earned us extra chores or being sent outdoors to play!

  5. says

    Great post :) Sometimes it can be so easy to just switch on the TV for a bit just so I can get stuff done! And then when it’s raining (practically all the time in the UK it feels like!) it can feel like too much effort to have to get us all wrapped up and ready to go outside but it is SO worth it though when we do. We all feel better and I certainly feel less guilty about ‘neglecting’ my child afterwards!
    Thanks for sharing your advice.

    Ps. I love the comment from Mary – ‘you’re too smart to be bored’ – going to remember that one!

    • anna says

      Does it really still rain all the time? Joshua and I visited London on a six-year-late honeymoon trip two years ago and it was warm and dry the whole time we were there. It didn’t really feel like the England I imagined, lol!

      I can imagine that when it does rain all the time it must make it hard to get outside. Totally worth it though! :)

  6. says

    I don’t have children but I think Imagination is one of the most important things we can foster in children. Imagination leads to curiosity and invention and is integral to our future.

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