In a world that is so consumed with deadlines, goals, and more information than we have the ability to process, it can be difficult to tap into our creative sides. People who dream are often designated to labels such as “slacker” or “dreamer” and “not in touch with reality.” But are they really? 21st-century jobs are calling for people to think more creatively, and not only problem solve but also to identify problems that need to be solved. Research shows that creative people are more likely to start their own companies, be happy in their jobs, and succeed in business-related careers. So, how do we nurture our kids’ imagination, so they are prepared for the world ahead?
1. Allow children to make mistakes.
Kids who are afraid of failure are less likely to think creatively. They trade their ability to be problem-solvers for the opportunity to be right or get it fixed right away. Teaching kids to be independent problem-solvers is so critical for parents. Create a space where failing is encouraged because the only way to be successful is to make mistakes. Limit the need to fix minor problems for them. If they run to you every time they have a disagreement with someone or are disappointed by how something turns out, allow them to have the time to figure out a solution. Use prompts like, “What could you try? Has this happened before? What did you do? Would you like to turn it into something else?” Allow them to do the critical thinking themselves. If they don’t have the skills, provide some options, and allow them to choose the option they want to take. If it doesn’t work out, provide time to talk about what happened and why it didn’t work.
2. Go outside.
While we suggest exercising the utmost caution in limiting your exposure to others, find spaces that feel safe enough to socially distance. Allowing kids to explore nature provides so many important benefits. Nature is always changing, so there are countless opportunities for children to discover, create, and problem-solve. They can draw in the dirt, build snowmen or snow angels, watch ants move, investigate the dried leaves on the ground, take bike rides or simply look up at the sky. Nature inspires kids to think, question, create hypotheses and develop creative minds.
3. Make, break, create something.
I know what you’re thinking. “You want them to make a mess in my house?” I get it, and still, I say, “YES”. If need be, set up opportunities in the kitchen, backyard, garage or bathtub for kids to create.
When we think of art projects, we often think cute, frilly finger turkeys or elaborate gingerbread houses that we see all over our social media feed. Have you ever sat down to do a project and felt frustrated because you don’t have all the pieces or stressed yourself out running around town to get what you “needed”? I’ve been the hovering mom and teacher that said, “No, no, put it this way.” So as a recovering hover mom, I’m here to tell you that art is an expression that nurtures imagination, not a step-by-step lesson in following directions.
The things that you need are the things that are already readily available in your home. View projects as an invitation to explore and arrange different materials that kids can use however they like. Throw materials like tape, markers, paper, aluminum foil, old string in a sealable tub and let kids have at it. You could also create a concoction lab where you place supplies and ingredients in the bin and let your child mix, measure and investigate the different materials. Putting things like measuring cups, flour, rice, droppers, food coloring, spoons, and the like helps children learn to test out theories and find solutions to problems. When they’re done, teach them the all-important lesson of cleaning messes up together.
4. Create a reading routine.
Reading daily helps kids explore different worlds, process new information and learn important social-emotional skills such as empathy and perspective building. After reading, discuss possible scenarios or endings for the story. Don’t limit it to what would happen realistically; let them imagine. Create stories together. You could develop a story that lands them as the main character or propose a moral dilemma and allow them to think about how the story will play out. Storytelling is the cornerstone of imaginative development. Take turns coming up with a story, then let the other person continue it. You might turn on a song for older kids and have them take one of the lines and develop a whole story around it. Just be ready for the most amazing stories and tons of laughs.
5. Limit screen time.
You knew it was coming. Nurturing imagination and parenting during this digital age was already tough enough, and then the pandemic required more dependence on screens. 😩 Too much screen time encourages kids to be passive learners. They take in information but are not actively utilizing it. So much required time in front of a device makes it even more important to encourage active ways for them to create. Engage in more opportunities for imaginative play. Allow children to play dress-up and create scenarios and stories to play out. Don’t think that this only applies to young children, though. If you don’t believe me, just look at some of the TikTok videos with teens dressing up and acting out real-world observations or Google “Cosplay”.
Choose toys and games that are open-ended. Opt for Legos, puppets, and dolls that utilize imagination and construction. Play board games but make up your own rules for how to play them. Use the Candyland pieces on the Clue board. You’ll notice that kids use much more complex vocabulary and grammar when they are playing with open-ended materials than when playing with gadgets. When inviting them to imaginative play, ask open-minded prompts like “Let’s make something move” or “Let’s make something play.” This will encourage kids to use their imaginations and not get stuck thinking that a piece only has one function. For example, a block could be a phone, a hoverboard, a cloud, a bed-you name it.
Let’s raise kids that know how to dream, imagine and create. If you’re worried that they need a reality check, trust me, there is no shortage of opportunities in the world. They’ll be fine. For now, let their imaginations run wild. What do you do to raise an imaginative child? Drop a comment below.