Talking to stuffed animals, making up tall tales, and creating people out of modeling clay may seem like childish play to us grown-ups, but such activities help develop imagination and the skills children will need for academic, emotional, and social growth.
By playing “make-believe” children get a head start on becoming able problem solvers and good conversationalists. Creative kids often have well-developed vocabularies, write complex sentences, use more compound words, and colorful adjectives. Because an extensive vocabulary is one predictor of how well a child will do in school, parents need to know how to encourage young developing imaginations.
To make sure your youngster has an outlet for expression, CREATE a home environment that includes tried-and-true make-believe boosters: blocks, crayons, paint, sidewalk chalk, modeling clay, puzzles, and dress-up clothes.
FIND a place where the mess doesn’t matter. Kids need to squeeze paint and clay through their fingers because there is childish pleasure in each squish.
REPLACE passive video or computer games with interactive software. Better yet, make regular outings to parks, zoos, museums, and the library.
ENCOURAGE children to compose original music, to write and illustrate their own books. Make every effort to display their work at home. This boosts self-esteem and shows that you value creativity.
By the time children enter middle school, imaginative play tapers off and is replaced with the adolescent phenomenon of “any story you can tell, I can tell one that’s better.” Kids do this by exaggerating ordinary circumstances and events. It may start when one girl mentions her favorite song is “One Less Lonely Girl.” Everyone at the lunch table agrees: Justin Bieber is so cute. In fact, one girl says she first saw him on You Tube and has his picture posted in her locker. The girl across the table interrupts and says she has a genuine autographed picture. Another says she has his home address and has already written him a letter. And so on.
After everyone has contributed a comment, the topic is dropped. For kids this age, getting the last word in an exchange of exaggerations is really a form of bonding with peers. They are developing their own identities about who they are and what they value. Children (like adults) feel valued when they’re allowed to give input.
Some of the most fantastic stories come out of the mouths of adolescents. Eager to have their say, they often confuse facts and word meaning. While embellishing the truth comes close to lying, it’s not the same for kids. When children lie, it’s usually to deny responsibility or to shift the blame. So, don’t worry that your young storyteller is going to grow up to be a liar. Kids quit stretching the truth when their peers stop showing interest. A parent’s best approach is a neutral acknowledgment that neither praises nor puts down: “How did you ever think that one up?” or “Wouldn’t it be nice if it really happened?”
Through their stories, kids learn to separate truth from wishful thinking and to shape new ideas out of existing facts.
Friends are fun. Friends are comforting, and some imaginative children will carry on lively conversations with their stuffed animals, dolls, or themselves. It’s not because they don’t have real friends, but because they enjoy the art of conversation so much they’ll make it up even if no one is around.
Solo conversations allow kids to replay events in a way to make things come out the way they wanted them to.
Trying on a variety of identities also helps children test themselves so that they might enjoy feeling victorious, smart, and even invincible.
Having time to play, act, create, and daydream are what childhood is all about. Children will grow up soon enough and feel the pressure to be organized and productive, to make use of every spare minute. Until then, a vivid imagination offers kids what reality cannot–limitless explorations with no failures.
Let’s CHEER on their creativity and SAVOR every fleeting memory.
Source: Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein, “Imagine That,” Psychology Today, November 1, 2010.