10 ways to fire up your child’s imagination

Your child’s imagination is a precious tool. A skill that helps them develop new ideas, creative solutions for whatever life might throw at them. Today’s world might be encroaching on their imagination.  How?  By spoon feeding them.  By not letting them go through their own creative struggle.  By not letting them get their hands dirty.

So it’s our job as parents to provide the right ways, the great environments and the perfect stimulus that let your child’s imagination buzz with new neural pathways and creativity.  I could go on and on about why having a healthy imagination is important, and I know there’s lots of research out there telling us how our world needs creative thinkers… so let your children create stories (rather always reading them), make up their own games ( rather than play by someone else’s rules) and be a little bit off the wall, chaotic and messy with their world…

So get ready, roll up your sleeves and have fun with these 10 ways to fire up your child’s imagination….

  1. DROP YOUR INNER CRITIC    Drop the voice that says “That’s no good”, “Why do you put black all over it?”  “What a goopy mess you’ve made”, “That looks nothing like a flower”, “What’s that meant to be?”   STOP, let the critic take a holiday.  Put it in the oven.  Leave it outside in the garden.  Whatever.  Just stop saying negative things, stop criticising.  Also stop thinking YOU are not creative, because that’s what your child will start to believe about themselves. If you haven’t figured it out yet, here’s the biggest deal about being a parent… your children are masters at modeling themselves on you.  If you believe you are not creative, then your children will believe they are not creative either.  When you are short of  ideas and don’t see yourself as a creative thinker – just get cracking with some random ideas given here or elsewhere by googling.  Forget the stories in your head. If it’s really a stuck record “I’m not creative” then I recommend The Work of Byron Katie to turn around your thinking. The inner critic is probably going to be the main barrier to helping your child develop their own imagination.  So before you do any of the activities below make sure you’ve DROPPED  IT ! 
  2. Painting    A surprising number of parents don’t have paints for fear of the mess. Get some plastic sheets, cover all surfaces.  Have lots of rags. Get an apron (or ten – an old shirt will do).  Or paint outside. Use only water soluble paints. Get over your own fear of needing to “be an artist” go abstract.  NEVER ask them what they are painting or what they are going to paint – allow them to tell you what they are doing  (and they might not).  You may ask (if they get stuck) do you need an idea – then have several.  Have fun.  I can’t recommend painting enough,  I say this as an artist and art psychotherapist, the most obvious way  to fire a child’s imagination is ready and easy access to lots of blank pieces of paper and paints.
  3. Clay Again a creative medium that has unlimited potential.  Get the air-dried clay (your child can paint it after it dries) or that FIMO type that needs a low heat oven firing.  Playing with clay – discovering the possibility of clay is all about making shapes, seeing what holds, see how to stick two pieces together, rolling, kneading, poking and prodding.  Don’t comment about the results, know that the kinesthetic experience of using their hands on clay fires up all sorts of imaginative pathways in their brain.
  4. Sand Tray a therapeutic tool, but also very simply a great way to spark off great  imaginative play.  First paint the bottom of a small box (a plastic storage box about 60cm x 30cm – larger is okay too) so it’s blue.  Put a layer of 3cm of sand.  Collect a whole bunch of small figures and objects and animals and stones, feathers and other things (they are usually lurking in the bottom and back of draws and cupboards where you store toys) let your child create a world (not for under 3’s unless they are past putting things in their mouth), wet the sand so they can create mountains or rivers (hence the blue bottom of the box).  There is a LOAD more to it (especially the therapeutic side) but simply used as a way to get your child to create – it’s fantastic fun.
  5. Nature depending on your local natural environment (woods, seashore, city park, river, beach) creating dens aka hiding places, shelters, tree houses, cabins is a natural part of development (in Steiner Schools they put this in the curriculum around the age of 8). Obviously an 8 year old is not going to have the skills to erect a proper tree house, but be amazed at what they can do – and then what superb creative play develops around the structure. And the temporary nature of it is important too.
  6. Nature AGAIN my kids hate going for a walk.  But it they are going on a scavenger hunt – and have to create something with their findings, then they are off into the world of imagination.
  7. Nature AGAIN and AGAIN why are family beach holidays often the most successful ones?  Because of what the unlimited possibility of  sand and water can do for your child’s imagination.  A bucket and spade are helpful but not necessary, if you live too far to make it to the sea, then find a safe river or gentle sloping lake that has that transition from water to land. What’s so lovely about this environment is that it genuinely does hold your child’s attention.  When they maybe pestering you at home to do this or that with them, at the beach (or riverside or lakeshore) they can be occupied for hours.  You do need to be mindful of course of the fact that you are next to water, so stay safe.  I was very lucky my son fell into a pond at the age of 18 months, my then 5 year old daughter screamed, he was scooped out within seconds, and they were both imprinted with a very strong message to stay well away from the edge unless someone was holding their hand! In some countries this activity is limited to the warmer months (so maximise your opportunities in those months).
  8. Nature AGAIN – Cloud Gazing  simply lovely.  Lie on your back on a summer’s day or if you are wearing snow suits can be done year round.  Watch the shapes become objects, dragons, angels and the like.
  9. Creating Story trains  Once upon a time there was a … and the next person fills in the blank.  Very young children may need a bit of prompting “So where did she go?  or “What happened next?” or “What did he meet?” NEVER judge the story.  It’s surprisingly common to get attached to your version of it and get kind of upset when the bunny runs away with the fox and you had him saving the princess in your mind !  Stay out of the way and just let whatever unfold no matter how silly or strange it may be.
  10. WELCOME BOREDOM! The MOST powerful way to stimulate your child’s imagination is to allow the empty gaps of boredom, confusion, tiredness, lack of direction and general apathy to come and go.  Whenever a child is having a boredom trantrum “I don’t know what to do!” and nothing you suggest is exciting to them.  Just know that something will show up from their imagination – because that’s what we humans are so capable of. Don’t rush to fill the gap with structured activities because that gap is the very emptiness  the deep well from which the imagination arises. 

Look at all what we humans have created in this world by dreaming and seeing it in our imagination first. Spaceships, telephones, the internet, it all had to happen in somebody’s imagination before it came a reality.  So spark your child’s imagination and watch your child grow to be a creator of his or her own world for the rest of their lives.

And if you are feeling  like you’d love to speak to me directly about how you could be more imaginative with your child then simply contact me to set up a mini coaching session – let me know your topic is CREATIVITY