Every child is uniquely individual with their own likes, dislikes, quirks, strengths, and talents. But one thing inherently shared among all children is the enchanting genesis of twinkling fairy forests and flying pirate ships; we’re talking about imagination. Children are made of it; it is in their bones, and shoots out of their fingers in magical bursts of light and creativity. It is inside of every one of them. That’s how they come.
But what happens when you aren’t seeing it glimmer and bounce off your walls and ceilings? What happens when the creativity isn’t exactly flowing, when the imagination seems stifled under busy schedules and electronics? Whether your kids are in need of a boredom buster, or you are looking for a break from media consumption, you can easily help to ignite their imaginations.
Keep in mind, imaginative play is what kids are good at. You won’t need to go to great lengths to prepare elaborate, creative games. Poke the fire gently and it will blaze on its own. Here are a few ideas to fuel their imaginations.
Sometimes all it takes to inspire some creative play is to make one broccoli talk to another, or make one spoon or hairbrush dance, or getting one elbow to sing opera. Pretty much anything you have laying around can become the main character in a brand new story if you give it a voice or some movement. This is the language kids speak. You won’t likely have to do much more than get the ball rolling with some household item, and they’ll join right in and make it a far more interesting story than you could have ever imagined.
Paint a Scene: What Would You Do If…?
When you aren’t in a position to use props, like when driving in the car, start a conversation. Consider presenting a scenario to your kids: What if the lake was filled with ice cream? Then ask them what they would do in that scenario and get ready for some fun answers. I’d build an ice cream snowman and take him on a boat ride! It doesn’t take long before the kids will begin to play this game on their own. Your kids will create their own scenarios and involve you in their play.
Books are a wonderful means of igniting imagination. They do not spoon-feed a story like a TV show or a video game will, but telling a story without the help of a book leaves it all up to your child’s imagination. They must imagine the characters, the scene, and every element of the story for themselves. It then becomes uniquely their own.
Consider having an ongoing story at bedtime. Let your child provide the details, create characters, conflicts, resolutions, etc. You can provide the filler for the story, and then pause every time you want your child to create the meat. If they feel like they themselves are being woven into the plot line, whether by naming a character after them or giving the character a little brother and a dog just like they have, you’ll likely bring out their personal hopes, fears, and dreams, which will make for a creative and insightful experience. Telling a story together also helps your child see your imagination at work, making it a game that not only inspires their imagination, but strengthens your bond to one another.
Let Them Make a Mess
I know, I know. You already feel like you spend all day cleaning up messes. I’m not talking about letting all the Legos be scattered into every room or allowing your favorite shampoo to be emptied into the toilet. I’m talking about letting them dig in that dirt, fill their shoes with sand, make mud milkshakes and sell them to the neighbors. I’m talking about allowing too much soapy water to be used while they mop the kitchen with their socks, or not freaking out when they finger paint with their yogurt.
Ask yourself: are they being naughty or are they exploring their environment? Sometimes it is the first, but often it is the latter. Children learn through stimulating all five senses. Which is why babies stick everything in their mouths, and toddlers smash objects together to hear their sound. Let them touch and feel and manipulate their environment. Sometimes the cleanup is worth the exploratory learning and its accompanying narrative.
Nature provides the best props and the best scenarios of all imaginative play. Let them get out into nature and connect one-on-one to their environment to inspire creativity. Watch them mount tree branches and ride off as dragon warriors or climb to the top of the hill and surf down the volcano’s lava. Be patient if your hike is detained by a sudden need to set up a village for fairies or a trap for the trolls. Get down in the dirt with your kids and help build the fairy cafe, or a ninja raft for the puddle. If you leave the house with the intent of allowing their imagination to explode rather than to reach a certain destination, you really will be blown away at the adventure they’ll have.
All in all, fostering an environment that facilitates imaginative play is simple and easy, but the reward of seeing their imagination come to life is unimaginably fulfilling.
Brooke Cade is a freelance writer for PicJoy. When Brooke isn’t writing, she enjoys photography, technology, and learning more about child development and fostering imagination.