"My imagination just makes me do whatever I feel like," said a thinking seven-year-old after he made a sculpture of wood and fabric swatches. He was old enough to contemplate the process of the artistic project and how it affected his mood and mind.
After saying that on the fly, he went to his Legos with his brother and they invented a detailed story with the figures they'd made and the setting they'd created. This boy and others in his age group learn from within--whatever comes to mind is fodder for their inventions. They understand being "in the zone" of artistic creation. Their imaginations are unstructured, unplanned, and brilliantly innovative. We need to provide more opportunities for these experiences
When kids go to school they mostly focus on structured activities tailored to teach them reading, writing, and math along with some science and history. Clearly this is important for their future learning and giving them a well-rounded education. However, it leaves opportunities for creativity to special schools who prize this wealth or parents like ourselves who realize the potential for learning it gives.
The seven-year-old noted above has great role models for creativity. His grandmother is a painter. His grandfather a sculptor. His father is an engineer with outstanding drawing capabilities. His mother creates by cooking from scratch while rebuilding her house and helping others creatively in her chosen profession. But modeling isn't something we all can do successfully. So, if we know the importance of encouraging our children's imagination, we can provide these opportunities for learning and immense growth.
6 Ways to Provide Outlets for Imagination
1. Keep all kinds of materials at hand from crayons, to all kinds of paper such as watercolor paper, sand paper, construction paper, fabric, left over pieces of wood, etc. Keep a stock of generally unwanted item s that kids can recycle in their projects.
2. Encourage time spent on imaginary play. Children love toy figures of all types they invent stories about. They learn that stories have beginnings, middles, and endings and flow in a sequence that crescendos in a climax and then has some resolution. They do this naturally. What a remarkable learning experience, so different from being taught this directly in the classroom.
3. Ask questions when you read them stories. Ask them more about what they imagine the characters are thinking and feeling. Improve their vocabulary about feelings. Let them guess the end of the story before they hear it. This furthers their inventive capacities.
4. Take your kids to museums, especially designed for children. Let them stare at a painting and offer their view of what it's about. Let them imagine a title and figure out how the painting was constructed. Stretch their views without giving them information from you.
5. On the beach, go swimming but also go collecting. See what interests them. Beyond shells, they may find scraps of old glass, weathered wood, and other finds that they can later put together in some kind of project. All it takes is a suggestion to do so, and they're off having a grand time.
6. Make a walk in a park a scavenger hunt. Don't plant things for them to find, just make a list of ideas like find a good place to sit, find a walking stick, find kindle for a fire, discover a new animal, etc. They love these adventures and their creativity soars.
These are just six suggestions but you get the idea. Your encouragement and engagement with your kids about creative exploits furthers their ability to think in these expansive ways. They become explorers, adventurers, artists, writers, expanding their thinking capacities over and over. The more they do these kinds of things, the more they think and reflect along these lines always learning, always stretching their imaginations.
Laurie Hollman, Ph.D., is a psychoanalyst with a recent book, Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child's Behavior, found on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Familius, and libraries and wherever books are sold.