My child’s imagination was at full force: he recently baked me a cake… made completely out of Legos. Never mind that the “cake” was simply a rectangular shape of random color blocks assembled; he still baked it in his oven, which apparently was the empty container for baby wipes. To turn anything into something and think outside the box is a gift most kids are blessed with.
Here’s how to encourage your child’s imagination:
Offer open-ended toys
Lego and other open-ended toys provide one of the best ways to encourage imagination. With no pre-determined ways to create, open-ended toys allow children to build from their own thoughts.
Writing and coloring tools like crayons and pencils are fantastic for drawing pictures and scribbles. Play dough can turn into random shapes and objects. Stuffed animals make for great conversations and play time. Costumes and props allow for beneficial role playing.
Observe your surroundings without always having to teach
Here’s a challenge: go for a walk with your child and simply make observations (“There’s a butterfly on the leaf!”). Resist the urge to “teach” your child what you know; for instance, adding to your observation, “Butterflies start as caterpillars and build cocoons.” Allow your child to draw her own conclusions, however out of the world they may be. While she’ll eventually learn correct facts in due time, she also needs the chance to make her own observations.
Similarly, try making observations without passing judgment—good or bad. If we say butterflies are beautiful but don’t say the same of snails, we again deny kids the chance to build their own opinions of their surroundings. This isn’t to say you never say something is beautiful or ugly (I’m always saying “It’s a beautiful day”), but if you try withholding judgment once in a while, you’ll be surprised at how often we apply labels to our surroundings based on our own preferences instead of letting our kids chime in on how beautiful a snail or a rainy day could be.
Don’t discount or correct pretend play
Let your child’s imagination run wild without too much correction during pretend play. If he insists that his toy is one thing when it looks nothing like what he suggests, simply run with it and see where it goes. Don’t correct too quickly; let him think creatively.
Take your child’s lead
With the crafts and learning activities on Pinterest and beyond, it’s tempting to plop materials in front of our kids and have them follow the steps exactly as instructed. If however your child has other plans, follow her lead and allow her to explore the craft in her own ways. Sure, it may not be picture-worthy or even anything close to what she’s “supposed” to learn, but any exploration can build her imagination.
Promote independent play
Give your child some time for independent play. The time alone will help foster independent thinking and imagination. With no one around, kids don’t feel watched or scrutinized, don’t have to impress, and aren’t boggled down with adult-led play.
Read with your kids
One of the benefits of reading books is exposing your child to places and stories he may not have experienced, such as polar bears in the ice caps or dragons flying in the air. Books also encourage storytelling, whether it’s the book’s story itself or your child’s own creation.
Do you struggle with finding time after work to play with your kids? Download my FREE play ideas calendar, perfect for the early evening hours! The first sheet includes ideas for the weekdays, while the second is a blank template to fill with your own ideas. Download it below:
What are some examples of your child using his imagination? Let us know in the comments below!