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When it comes to interacting with children, one thing parents and teachers should be most concerned about is a child’s IQ. No, not their intelligence quotient – their imagination quotient. As Albert Einstein once said, “Logic can get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” Imagination is an important part of children’s development, but in this era of standardized testing and national standards, fostering children’s imagination often gets put on the back burner. Whether you’re a parent or a teacher, here are a few ways to bring the development of children’s imaginations back to the forefront where it belongs.

Read Fiction

One of the easiest ways to encourage children to use their imagination is to show them stories that demonstrate the writer’s use of imagination. You can read a classic fairy tale like Cinderella or a sillier story such as Cock-a-Doodle-Moo. When you read fiction with children, point out some of the imaginary elements of the story and encourage children to come up with their own imaginary elements to add to the story. An easy way to encourage children to use their imagination while reading fiction is to ask them to place themselves in the story with questions such as, “What would you do if that happened to you?” or “What would you do if you encountered a talking tree?”

Write Stories

You can also children to write their own imaginary stories. If children cannot write yet, have them dictate a story to you or record them telling you the story orally. You can also have children draw pictures to illustrate their story or submit their story to a website that publishes stories from kids. You may be amazed by the stories children come up with.

Put on a Play

In your home or classroom, set up a makeshift stage or puppet theater and encourage children to put on a play. If they don’t wear to begin or are hesitant, start by having them act out a familiar story, such as The Three Little Pigs. Then slowly encourage children to veer from the story by changing something about it. Ways children can change the story include:

  • Changing the setting
  • Changing the words
  • Changing the plot
  • Changing the character’s personality
  • Adding a character
  • Removing a character

At some point, children will be able to move away from familiar stories and make up their own plays or puppet shows. To help spark their imagination, you can have different hats, shirts, or other costume materials and props on hand as well.

Play with Blocks

Blocks are the perfect toy for helping children develop their imagination. Some children will prefer to stick with building towers at first, but as their imaginations develop, they’ll progress to building houses, cities, and other basic structures. The more imaginative children become, the more they’ll be able to create with their blocks. A simple rectangular block may become a dinosaur stomping through a city or a car zooming around the race track.

Create Some Art

Structured crafts are fun, but one of the best ways to develop imagination in children is to give them some art supplies and let them create whatever they want. Start by simply giving children paper and markers or paint. Then introduce other supplies such as googly eyes, cardboard tubes, buttons, pipe cleaners. The number of things children can create is endless. When children have finished their artwork, put it on display in your home or classroom.

Show Them the Products of Others’ Imaginations

Often parents don’t take children to art galleries and museums because they’re afraid they’ll misbehave. However, these places are perfect for developing imagination. Take your children to the art museum and let them see what famous artists have created using their imaginations. Visit a local history museum and point out the different inventions that were created as the result of the inventors’ imaginations. Children will learn that while using your imagination seems silly at times, it can also lead to the creation of amazing things.

In addition to taking children to museums and art galleries, you can simply show them how you use your imagination. You don’t have to say, “Pay attention. This is how I use my imagination.” Instead, you can work imaginary scenarios or comments into your everyday activities. For example, you can imagine there’s a dragon following you when you go on a nature hike or you can imagine what your cat might be saying when it starts to meow. You can also bring in the element of imagination by simply starting sentences with “I wonder…” or “What if…”

Let Children Be Bored

The words “I’m bored” aren’t bad. It’s those words that can push children to really explore the depths of their imaginations to find something to do. When children are bored, they’re more likely to pick up a toy they haven’t touched in months, discover rocks and other items outside, or make up songs and stories in their heads. Don’t worry. Children will find ways to entertain themselves if they reach the state of boredom.

It’s important for children to balance the imaginary world with the real world, but the more they can add elements of imagination into real life, the better off they’ll be. As Carl Sagan said, “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”