I am by no means an expert when it comes to being a mum or a teacher, I am a mum and I have been a teacher, but neither of which do I have years and years of experience. So this advice comes with a health warning.
These may be steps that you already implement every day with your child, you may do some of these and you may only do one! This DOES NOT mean you’re a bad parent and it certainly doesn’t mean your children won’t have an imagination. Children already have amazing imaginations, it comes with innocence, a new found love for the world around them and a constant feed of make believe.
These tips will simply be ways you can build on that foundation and have some fun with your little ones at the same time.
Read, read, read!
This is a pretty obvious one really. Children get most of what they know about story telling/writing from books. In my experience as a teacher, the children who had a love for stories were also the children who had the imaginative skills to write their own. Reading stories with your children will fill their minds with all sorts of weird and wonderful characters, an extensive range of vocabulary and the understanding that good stories are often made up! Don’t just read the story to them, ask them questions about what they can see or what they have heard. Don’t feel like you have to dumb down any words, children are sponges, if you use creative vocabulary they will use it too! Ask your child to make up a story just by looking at the pictures, this will stretch their imaginations and train them just like you would a muscle, to be used in the future for bigger and better things. So as I say, this is a pretty obvious one, one which I’m sure you all do on a regular basis anyway.
Don’t always point out the obvious.
As parents we are trained to tell children what they can see, ‘Oh look there’s an aeroplane!’ or ‘It’s very rainy outside today isn’t it!’ This is obviously really important, especially in the early days when your baby is just acquiring language and building their knowledge of the world around them. When your children get a bit older however, I believe you can start to be more imaginative when pointing things out. Once you know your child understands what a tree is and what rain looks like then you can turn it into something MUCH more exciting. For example, you may say the tree is not just any old tree, but THIS tree is a fairy house and if you listen carefully you can hear the fairies snoring away inside. Your logical brain might be thinking ‘but I can’t hear any fairies snoring…’ but that’s what’s so magical about children, they believe! I can guarantee you your child will ‘hear’ the fairies snoring/baking cakes/doing the washing up, whatever you want them to be doing. This can be a lot of fun!
Make ordinary places extraordinary.
This is sort of similar to the step above, but apply it to places. If you’re going to the park today and have been to the park every day that week already (we all know this happens!) then turn it into somewhere else. ‘Today we are going to the jungle, there are vines to swing on, tree houses to play in and ooh did you just see that monkey! Quick pretend you’re a monkey too so he doesn’t see us!’ Thing is, as we get older, we start to feel silly doing this kind of thing around other adults, I get that. But I must say, as a fellow parent and adult, if I saw a parent doing this in the park with their child I would definitely only think of them as a hero! Not the wally you think you’re being perceived as. Plus children will love you for it, this can make an ordinary trip out so much more exciting.
Keep the magic of make believe alive.
Oh it used to make me so sad when children would come into school, bear in mind the eldest child in the school was 8, and tell all the other children that there was no such thing as Father Christmas, the tooth fairy, the easter bunny etc. Not only did this make me sad for the children with the crest fallen faces, often tears, magic of Christmas ruined as they enjoyed their cheese sandwich. But it made me really sad for the child who let the cat out of the bag. A child of 8 can seem so mature, ready for the reality of the world, but they’re still so little! The longer we can hold on to those things that make the world seem so magical the better, because once you unlock these things often there’s no going back. Then they want to apply their new found science and logic to the rest of the child hood make believe and the world just seems so… real! I wish I still believed in Father Christmas now!
Let them take the lead.
This is what it says on the tin really, ask them questions, like ‘If you could go anywhere in the world today, where would you go?’ or for younger children give them options ‘Where would you like to go today, to the bottom of the ocean? To a magical chocolate castle? (yes please!) or how about the top of an ice cold mountain?’ Often then they will be so ensconced in their fantasy they will convince you that underneath the kitchen table is actually a dark, smelly cave in the middle of the forest. Letting children lead the way actually makes life easier for you. They are so amazing, the stuff they come up with usually is way better than what you can think up anyway!
So as I said before, these are by no means hard and fast rules to follow, I’ve yet to try them all out on my own baby as he is still only little. However, we do already visit the desert island (island of plants in the middle of the swimming pool) to see the pirates and treasure quite often. We may also stand under the bridge and shout ‘who’s that trip trapping over my bridge!’ every now and again, as much for my own amusement as his!
These steps are just ideas, little things you can do to keep that magical fire burning for as long as possible. Children with great imaginations are the ones who have you laughing till your tummy hurts, the ones who write beautiful stories that you can store away or pin up on the wall and often the ones the teachers love, though of course you never have favourites….
As well as this, imagination goes hand in hand with creativity, which goes hand in hand with innovation which can lead to amazing things, so if you build it up as much as you can who knows what they will achieve!
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on August 31st 2015