Saturday was a great day. I love the idea of this day, but I’m really not sure what to say about it. Let’s face it, if you or I go around expressing our appreciation for dragons, pretty soon we’re going to be followed by medical personnel with sedatives.
Perhaps you’re really supposed to appreciate your boss, the fire-breather. Or that customer, client, or patient who can’t be pleased and lets you know it all the time. Or that relative. You know the one.
But I think, in the spirit of the day, I’ll share with you part of a talk I give when speaking to parents’ groups. Studies confirm that now, with technology advancing at the speed of sound and resumes that all look stellar and identical because these kids have been uber-competing for years, companies and colleges are looking for that something “other.” Something that doesn’t show up on a transcript or resume. The ability to solve problems, seek unique solutions, and look at circumstances in a new way. These things come through imagination and creativity, things this country has historically been very good at but which we are rapidly losing. So whenever I get the chance, I like to talk to parents about this topic. How to Nurture Your Child’s Imagination.
–Purchase toys that require interaction. So many current toys do all the work for your child. They walk, talk, light up, and do everything but clean their room. Your child doesn’t have to interact, just push buttons. Try to choose toys that won’t work without your child’s active manipulation. Dolls, dress-up, building toys, play tools and kitchen utensils all make good choices. You know what our kids’ favorite toy one Christmas was? A bag of Styrofoam cups. For weeks, they built fortresses, castles, and pyramids– with just a bag of cups.
–Play open-ended question games. What if you had 10 million dollars? What if you could be any age you wanted to be? What if you saw a giant kangaroo in the backyard? Be silly or serious; it’s all fun.
–Encourage their questions. I know — easier said than done. After all, how many times can you hear “But why? But how?” without wanting to lock yourself in the bathroom for a little quiet? But letting your child know questions are good things encourages her to be curious, a necessary trait for imagination. By the way, “I don’t know,” is an acceptable answer.
–Read together. As much as possible. Every study ever done can’t stress enough the importance of this. Ask her what she thinks will happen next, or how she’d feel if she were in the story.
–Make up stories together. You start a story, then switch off to let him continue after a few sentences. Keep rotating until someone ends your masterpiece. This is a great dinner time game, especially when waiting in restaurants.
–Frame artwork. Show you really value her work by purchasing inexpensive mats and frames for a few things and displaying them. (We framed a colorful “abstract” our oldest daughter did in preschool, and people actually asked where we bought the beautiful picture!)
–Have materials on hand and easily accessible. For very little ones, this could simply mean putting your plastic storage bowls in a lower cupboard she can reach and play with. For older kids, create a convenient place for art supplies, building materials, and dress-up clothes.
–Get into nature and marvel at God’s creativity. Nothing inspires imagination better than the original Masterpiece.
–Don’t turn on the TV or computer. You knew I’d say this. A child who spends hours in front of the TV or computer screen learns to let the world entertain him. He has no need to learn self entertainment and soon no desire to, because those electronics are addicting. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for children under 2 and only about an hour for preschoolders.
–Don’t overschedule! This may be even more of an imagination robber than TV. Children need downtime to daydream, think, explore, and create. Being rushed from activity to activity, even good ones, squashes this necessity.
–Don’t forget that the goal is play, not product. We adults get so wrapped up in “end results.” Is he producing something? A child doesn’t feel the pressure to produce at all–she values the process.
–Don’t rush to get him out of a problem. Let him think a while. Problem-solving skills are important keys to imagination. They don’t develop if the parent is always solving problems for a child or getting him out of tight spots.
–Don’t “fix” their work. Does the sun really have to be yellow? If he learns that there’s only one right way to do it, why bother imagining others?
–Don’t freak out over messes. Creativity is messy. A child who learns never to make a mess learns never to think outside the box. Clean it up together and marvel at the creation.
Imagination gives a child more than important life skills. It leads a child to his or her purpose in being here. It awakens the part of them that can commune with the original Artist. After all, we are made in His image, and the first picture we see of God is that of Creator. Nurturing imagination is nurturing the image of God in your child.