It is widely claimed that imagination is very important. A precious gift to be nurtured, not only for the developing child, but also for the adult. Whilst all forms of play are important to the child, free imaginative play, where the child is allowed to play and follow their own imaginative games and is not directed by an adult, is the most important of all. Studies have shown that when children have indulged in lots of imaginative play they do better at school, become better at solving problems and in empathising with others. This continues into adult life.
Modern life is diminishing the opportunities for children to indulge in imaginative play and the rise and rise of the tablet and mobile phone, now so freely used as an electronic pacifier or electronic baby sitter is contributing to this problem.
Here are four simple ideas for stimulating and encouraging imagination in children that you may also enjoy. Join in and have fun together.
1. Story Cards
Cut pieces of white or coloured card into squares or rectangles and let the children draw a symbol or a picture on each one. For example a crown, or a queen, a rainbow, a star, house, fairy, ship or even a whole scene. Drawing on both sides of the card gives you even more scope for play.
Shuffle the cards and deal three cards each. Then each person tells a story around those three cards, or if they prefer they can swap one of their cards for another from the pack. It may help to start with your own story or to help a child to start by saying “Once upon a time there was …” and pointing to a card. Every story, no matter how short, long or silly is precious.
Ekphrasis is the description of a work of art, or art object, in words. Often this is in the form of an imagined story describing the picture. When you look at pictures, or objects of art with your children ask “Who do you think that person is in the picture/ why are they there/ what is going to happen/ why?” encouraging them to tell their own story about the picture, or the bowl, jug, jewellery.
Question gently and give the child time to develop their ideas.
You don’t have to visit galleries to do this. Looking at pictures in books and magazines also works well.
3. Dressing Up
This is an old favourite and of excellent value, especially when there are several children. Collecting and making things to be kept in the dressing up box is fun in itself.
Making masks out of paper plates and decorating them, making jewellery and crowns and armour out of tin foil, making brightly painted macaroni strung on string to make necklaces, and so on.
Of course, your own clothes are always a great favourite so don’t throw them away. Let the children have fun with them.
Reading with your children is precious time together and should never be curtailed. Let the children chose the books they want to read – even if you have read it so many times you know it by heart. You can always say that you want to read your favourite book and so introduce a change.
Don’t stop reading with your child when they can read for themselves. Let them chose the books they want, you may be surprised by their choice. You are still sharing precious time with them and starting a love of reading. Nothing enriches the mind as much through life as the quest for knowledge.