There is nothing so fascinating to me as a 3-year-old’s imagination. At any moment he can be an animal, a superhero, a car, a vacuum cleaner or a person he knows. (And if you call him by the wrong name, he will correct you.) He’s constantly doing something. Often something that involves sound effects.
I love this creativity and his extremely active imaginary life and I am always looking for ways to encourage this creativity and imaginative play. I think this is so important and I want to make sure that I don’t stifle it with my structured homeschool activities.
As a witch, I am especially eager to maintain my child’s imagination as it is so important in magical practice. It aids with divination and is invaluable when formulating a spell or writing a ceremony. But imagination is not only important for the spiritual side of life; it is huge from a more material standpoint as well. The most important aspect of imagination is that it gives us the ability to think through problems and predict possible outcomes. Indeed, I believe imagination is a necessary ingredient in logic. I am a big fan of logic. Imagination is the difference between innovation and the status quo. The future of our species and the health of our environment is going to depend on innovation. On imagination.
I indulged in a bit of research and experimentation to find out some of the best ways to encourage imagination in my children. Here are some things I’ve picked up that you might also find helpful
Leave Them Alone
The simplest and most basic thing we can do to encourage imagination in our children is quite possibly the most difficult to actually force ourselves to do. Just let them be. A child or group of children left to their own devices in the back yard (with a parent watching benevolently from a discrete distance. In my case, usually weeding.) will soon fill the yard with all manner of magical creatures, friends and objects. Imagination is natural, it has to be taught out of us.
My youngest son is enamored of a certain Redbud Tree who is apparently not only an engaging conversational companion, but also the control panel of a space ship (at least I think it’s a space ship), a patient who needs doctoring (the poor thing’s bark falls off at the slightest provocation) and a non-functioning robot in need of prodding with a “screwdriver” magically created from one of its dropped limbs (inevitably leading to the loss of more bark, alas.)
It is important as parents and educators to make sure there is time in our children’s busy schedules for unstructured, undirected, imaginative play. Just let them loose with some random stuff and see what happens. What sort of random stuff? Read on.
Play Silks aka Bits of Fabric
When I first read about Waldorf play silks, I was intrigued, but a little doubtful. I decided to make my own by picking up sheer fabric at the fabric store and serging the edges. However, before I made it to the fabric store, I bought a package of brightly colored cloth napkins for my dining room. My son has fallen in love with them. He uses them as napkins, but also for fun. Now he has play silks. Sort of. They are a bit smaller and he can’t see through them, but they work.
These napkins (aka play silks, er. play linens?) are doors for knocking on (to play Trick or Treat), bags for putting things into, superhero capes, hats, hair, blankets, and pillows for napping and putting toys down for naps and also just fun to swish around. I guess maybe play silks are for fancy kids. Mine’s not fancy. Though I would feel more comfortable if I knew he can see when they are on his head.
Wordless Story Books
Wordless storybooks is a new discovery on my part but they are a lot of fun. A book with only pictures, or even only colors, allows your child to make up her own story. My son enjoys looking through wordless books on long drives and he entertains me thoroughly by telling me the story. Of course, since he can’t read yet, the books could have words or not and it wouldn’t make a difference. However, when we look at a wordless book together, it sparks so much discussion, speculation — Imagination!
This same exercise can be done with any images, including Tarot cards. My son truly enjoys looking at my Tarot cards and talking about the images, often identifying them with people he knows. He calls The Lovers “The Dancers”. He also has some alphabet flashcards whose pictures he enjoys discussing.
Dolls and Puppets
Dolls and puppets allow a child to act out stories and scenarios and practice social interactions. They don’t have to be fancy. People and animal shapes cut out of card stock and stuck to a wooden craft stick make great puppets for acting out a favorite story and my son’s favorite “dolls” are ’70s era Little People that I rescued from my mom’s garage sale this past summer. They didn’t come in the varieties that they do now; they look kind of like clothespin people. No hands or feet, just heads and bodies with only three hair colors and two skin colors and two sizes, but they all get named and have amazing adventures.
As I type this, my son is playing with a box. I spent much of the day knocking on the box so that he could emerge, introduce himself, shake my hand and tell me it’s nice to meet me, pull the flaps shut and demand that I knock again. I am not sure what he’s doing now, but he no longer has any use for me. I have been informed very emphatically that it is not a spaceship.
I don’t think I need to explain why art supplies foster creativity. But one thing that’s important is to allow some free expression. I have heard that some teachers are pretty strict about coloring in the lines. I feel this is unnecessary and possibly damaging. If you want your child to color in the lines, color with him. And color in the lines on your picture. Let him do what he wants with his and there’s no point in correcting him. He’ll decide eventually he wants to color in the lines, or not. I recently discovered Creative Galaxy. It’s an Amazon original show and it’s all about making art out of random stuff. I had no idea pompoms were so versatile. It gave me a lot of ideas about the sorts of things I should have on hand and the sort of projects we can do without a lot of planning. It’s a kid’s show that streams free if you have Prime and the first episode is free even if you don’t.
Something else we love is Kiwi Crate. They are a subscription service that sends a themed activity box every month. They have a range of age groups, so your kiddo gets age appropriate materials right up to some pretty advanced STEM activities for teens. It’s not just throwaway crafts either. My son has made some toys in his Kiwi crate that he still plays with all the time. It also comes with a story and activity book that my son truly enjoys.
Join in the Fun
1Play with your kids! Just play with them. Let them lead the game and boss you around for once. It’s fun. It’s kind of relaxing. You don’t have to correct him, you don’t have to clean up after him (until later), all you have to do is play. She’ll tell you what to do and then you just go with it, improv style.
What sort of imaginary fun do your kids come up with?