From the prophetic lyrics of the great Willy Wonka, “There is no life, I know, to compare with pure imagination.” As parents, we need to help ignite the spark and allow our children’s imaginations to blossom. In our “touch of a button” society, there’s no shortage of eye-catching and engaging devices and distractions for children, big or small. With so many prepackaged entertainment options at our fingertips, it’s important to ensure that our little ones aren’t missing out on the opportunity to unpack their imaginations and let creativity soar.
Any quick search on the topic of preschoolers and imagination will lead to one common piece of advice – limiting screen time is a must. We can’t expect to build our children’s imaginations if an app or show is doing all of the work for them. Scott Barry Kaufman’s article from Psychology Today highlights studies that found cognitive, social, and emotional benefits to imaginative play. We must create and present opportunities for our kids to use their imaginations and encourage screen-free imaginative play whenever possible.
Thinking back to my own childhood, I can recall memorable times spent in the kitchen with my mom as we prepared a simple meal or snack. We’d often throw on crazy hats or talk in our best imitations of the befitting accent for whatever dish we prepared. I remember a favorite transformation was to take on the personas of Bertha and Hilda, two witchy sisters, as we cackled and stirred a savory potion of seasonal soup. Not only do I look back many years later and cherish these enchanting times, but I love to replicate similar adventures with my own brood and see their imaginations flourish. It’s easy to add a fun twist to everyday activities and watch as pure imagination takes the lead.
Dress-up bins and props for role-playing are great imagination builders, but it’s also important that we don’t over plan and take away the opportunity for our children to discover the wonders imagination can bring to everyday things. An easy way to create some enlightening transformations is to create a magic box. Choose a small box or bin, which you can have some fun decorating, and fill it with a variety of household odds and ends (e.g., paper towel rolls, measuring cups, a toothbrush, a tennis ball). On any given day, the magic box can be transformed for a new adventure. One day it can be a duffle bag for a jungle journey, the next it could be unpacked as a scientist’s briefcase, and then it could become a super hero’s gadget trunk. Toss on a cape or a cap and let the fun begin as your imaginations transform measuring cups into musical instruments from a jungle tribe or sample collectors for scientific experiments or super hero laser deflectors. After you’ve shared a couple of adventures together, your preschooler will be ready to unpack the magic box unassisted and let her pure imagination guide her on new and exciting journeys of her own.
If your child is having trouble getting started on the path to adventure, it might be necessary to spark the imaginative light bulb and get those creative juices flowing. Kathy Eugster, clinical counselor and child and family therapist, has some fun ideas to foster imagination and creativity. How many games can you create with a football, a hula hoop, and an egg timer? My kids love to add their own twists and rules to everyday play! We don’t have to plan their adventures, but we may need to offer the words and encouragement to help them unfold.
No matter where these adventures may take our little ones, embracing the quirkiness of your child’s imagination is an integral part of helping it flourish. At the Pre-K level and beyond, taking the time to listen to their creative ideas and encourage a continual exploration of them will go far. If we send the message that an idea or creation is foolish or irrelevant, our child’s interpretation may be that their ideas aren’t worthy, and this may hinder their desire to share new ones with us. Don’t inadvertently squash this new-found sense of adventure. Listening and taking an interest in the little things now will lay the foundation for more open communication as our children grow.
Spend time portraying and reading about characters that travel to the moon and beyond, and you will help your child see the wonder of pure imagination without leaving his living room. It’s time to reveal that golden ticket! Be prepared to experience the new sights, sounds, and adventures that await as you see the world through the wondrous eyes of your child.