My daughter is writing a paper for her high school English class. The assignment is to tell a story that echoes the themes in a book the class has read. This type of assignment is educational on many levels. Not only does my daughter need to use her analytical skills to discern the themes in the story, she must also consider her own point of view and translate it into a fiction that communicates her personal values. Using her imagination, she has experienced the world of an author’s creation and now she must build a world of her own creation and move her characters through it. This assignment puts her character and her values to the test in the best possible way-using imagination.
Whether your child is an introvert, an extrovert or a little bit of both, kids can learn how to make an impact on the world using the power of imagination. For years, imagination, like creativity, has been relegated to a secondary strength, an ability that’s considered adorable for young children to possess but not necessarily a practical skill for adulthood. However one of the definitions of imagination is the ability to face and resolve difficulties, which is another way of describing resourcefulness, a quality the world definitely needs right now.
In recent years, imagination has started coming into its own as the super-power it is. Imagination means the power to create with one’s mind. It means forming mental images or concepts that are not present to the senses yet. Creative imagination means recombining former experiences in the creation of new images directed at a specific goal or to aid in the solution of a problem. If you want to create a more hopeful world, you have to be able to imagine one first. You must also be able to imagine your role in the co-creation of sustaining this world.
Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” In other words, imagination is not just a proclivity of absent-minded children; it’s an ability that must be nurtured and appreciated. Creative thinking allows us to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes, to empathize with how another person feels, to dream big, and to take one baby step after another in an inspired direction. Imagination allows us to consider the larger, longer-term picture and envision our place in that world.
Parents can help kids become more visionary by nurturing imagination from birth onward. Here’s how:
Read Out Loud. Reading can counterbalance screen over-exposure, which can turn kids into passive observers. Start reading aloud when your children are very young or even still in the womb. Reading out loud promotes language development and early literacy skills. Eventually you will be able to take turns reading out loud with your children and even make this a family ritual. Practicing literacy from a young age opens the door to the infinite stories available in books for a lifetime.
Allow Time For Unstructured Play. Full schedules are great, but too much structure sucks the joy out of kids’ lives. Studies have shown that countries that have longer recess times perform better academically then countries with shorter recesses. This indicates that play is not only healthy for kids; it also makes them smarter. So be sure to carve out plenty of downtime at home no matter how busy life is to give kids the necessary space to decompress and self-express.
Declare A No-teasing Zone. Fantasy play requires making yourself vulnerable to mockery. One spoiled-sport can make an imagination-loving child self-conscious enough to stop paying attention to internal musings. Parents can even the playing field between practical, pragmatic children and dreamy, fantasy-loving children by making home a safe space for imaginative reverie. Encourage reality-loving kids to spend more time enjoying the results of other people’s flights of fancy as a form of education. They will soon get on board once they understand the innovation behind toys and activities they cherish.
Provide Art Supplies. Pencils, crayons, paints, papers, clay, chalk, fabric, embellishments, and yarn-these are basic art supplies every young artist needs. On a tough day, taking a trip to the craft store can be a real picker-upper. A table spread out with age-appropriate art supplies is all any heart needs to take flight. Dabbling in creative endeavors helps kids clear their minds so they can relax and solve their own problems.
Be An Enthusiastic Audience. My husband and I have often been entertained by our daughter and her friends’ impromptu kitchen shows, which have helped them become more intrepid performers today. Kids often want to share what they can do and it’s important to stop what you are doing and let them put on a performance for you when asked. Never offer critiques of play-in-progress because perfection is not the point. Voice encouragement for effort and risk-taking, and let each performer have a chance to shine. Don’t be afraid to clap and cheer. Actors feed off the energy of a supportive audience.
Encourage Balanced Escapism. Of course, playing video games 24/7 is a bad habit that can lead to addiction. Parents need to supervise kid’s immersive habits to avoid over-exposure. But a life with no escapism, when so many quality opportunities for experiencing virtual realities exist, is a mistake. As your kids get older, why not find ways to participate in their indulgences of choice, whether that’s watching favorite television show episodes, going head-to-head in a dance off or competing in virtual battlefields. Small amounts of escapism offer everyone in the family opportunities to rest and reboot during busy times.
Explore The Possibilities. There are ample opportunities as children grow to discuss possible outcomes that instill constructive communication skills. For example, if your child forgot the lyrics while performing a solo in a concert, you might ask, “What if you…” until you both come up with an idea to offer an apology to the director and colleagues. Sometimes kids need help brainstorming different endings than the ones they find themselves in or the worst-case scenarios they imagine. Playing a few rounds of “What if you…” can help move social situations from stuck to stable again.
Sign Them Up For Theater. Young children love playing imagination games alone and together, although their joy may diminish by the end of elementary school. One way to help children continue valuing their imaginations, despite emerging self-consciousness, is to introduce them to theater at a young age. Take them to children’s theater productions, encourage participation in age-appropriate theater at school, and sign them up for children’s acting workshops in your community. Workshops may be offered through dance studios, at professional theatres, or through your school district.
Pretend Together. Let’s face it; being a grown up can feel pretty overwhelming sometimes. Why not enjoy a break and let your children lead you into a world of their own creation? Forget being in charge for a change and follow your child’s lead. Change into your play clothes and join your kids on the floor or at the craft table for some messy, hands-on fun. What if you could utilize your imagination as clearly as they use theirs? You don’t have to be the ‘fun parent.’ Anyone can remember how to play, especially when you are willing surrender to the magic of the moment.
Christina Katz is a journalist, author and coach, but not necessarily the fun parent. Over the years, she has learned how to make play a priority so she and her daughter can kick back and bond without taking the worries of the world too seriously.