My 4 year old grandson thinks I am his personal play thing.  At times it would be nice if he were to use his imagination and play on his own.  I talk to him about this, about using his “imagination”; pretty hard word to pronounce for a 4 year old.  I explained how you can think of something in your head and make a story out of it.  He seemed to get it and I continued to reinforce it over time.  I knew it had clicked when I asked him what he was doing one day and he said, “memere, I’m using my “magination”.  He uses the word a lot with his cousins now.  It seems to have taken off.

With their imagination they can go to the moon, cross a river of lava, make a cake out of mud, they can explore their boundaries.  Their imagination will take them far into adulthood.  It helps develop the brain into a problem solver and critical thinker, someone who thinks “outside the box”.  As adults we can help children culture this important development, it doesn’t take much because it is natural to children and you might inherit some of this creativity yourself.

One thing I believe is important is to get away from the tablet, the tv, the electronics.  I see so many exhausted parents AND caregivers who “watch”  children while their noses are stuck in a phone.  Engage children, ask them questions about what they are playing and use “what if” statements. “What if you went to the moon and there was a moon pig there?”

No helicopter parenting, they need some freedom so they can experiment, so they can BE themselves instead of what we create for them.  After all they are not “mini-me’s”.

Be a role model, children will emulate their parents and engaged caregivers.  Whatever you do, children will probably mimic.  That is what they do.  Play and create with them.  Problem solve when they are watching and explain to them what you are doing.  Even when they are pesty about it.  Everyone knows that children are apt to play with a box that a toy came in, that’s their imagination at work.  Encourage that and find them a box next time, supply them with crayons, cut out parts of the box and let them go to the moon.  It’s fun watching them, maybe set up a video camera for your own fun.

There are so many things you can do to encourage children.  I’ve listed a few resources below for younger and older children. You can check them out for ideas in early childcare and after school.

www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514?storyId=19212514 (scroll down to check out the “Better Ways to Play” box on the right column of this article)

www.readbrightly.com/tips-for-raising-children-with-active-imaginations/

http://asuchildhoodservices.org/docs/ImaginativePlay_ACW2016.pdf Both Early Ed and School age.  Interesting article.

https://www.kqed.org/mindshift/50429/how-to-help-older-kids-develop-a-sense-of-imagination Ideas for older children