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Ways to Foster Imagination in Kids, by Ages
When you hear the phrase “Be creative,” what comes to mind? Perhaps it is swaths of colored paint and textiles, sounds of an instrument being played, or the smells of a complex meal being cooked. Often, we think creativity is solely associated with the arts and we either have it or we don’t. However, this is not true. Creativity is something that can be nurtured and developed in all areas of our life and within all subjects. But only if we can grow our imagination skills. Recent research shows that cultivating creativity in young people through imagination is essential for 21st-century success, as many jobs are multidisciplinary.
According to the U.K.’s Early Years Foundation Stage framework, when a child has imagination, it aids in accessing creativity and resources. This allows them to be able to tell stories, relate to others, maintain a sense of grounding, and enter their imaginary worlds. A creative and imaginative mind can solve problems, entertain different perspectives, and lead to more positive mental health.
When does imagination form?
Our imagination starts from an incredibly young age. It’s how we begin to process and understand the world around us, communicate with our caregivers, and discover how things work. According to Piaget’s theory of cognitive development, children engage in four types of play that reflect their cognitive development. They are functional play (birth to 2 years), constructive play (ages 2 to 7), symbolic/fantasy play (ages 7 to 11), and games with rules (ages 12 and up) (Stages of Development – Piaget). It is with this in mind that we can help to facilitate imagination in children throughout each stage.
Ways to foster imagination in kids, by ages:
Use the Senses
You will notice babies begin to organize their knowledge conceptually from as early as six months. Piaget observed that while they may not understand a toy specifically, they will look, feel, and touch it to begin to learn how an object can be manipulated. This is the stage of functional play. Using a variety of tactile objects with bright colors and making or using sounds to engage your child are great ways to encourage this type of play. For example, try handing them different objects and seeing how they use them. Finger painting is another wonderful tactile experience for your child. You could also allow them to “bake” with you, touching all of the different ingredients, watching the process, and seeing the final product.
Pretend and Dramatic Play
As children move into the constructive play stage around age 2, they begin to use and develop their story-making skills through using their imagination to represent objects. Around age 4, they are more interested in social engagements. This is a great time for play dates, allowing children to mirror real-life experiences like “playing house,” a common game in which children take on the roles of people in their lives and begin to mimic them. Children can also be supported to put on performances and create various situations with dolls, cars, animals, etc.
Introduce Structure Play
As children enter the symbolic/fantasy stage (ages 7 to 11), they are ready to begin to use logic in games. Repetitive games and structure support social aspects of play and the development of social skills like connection and acceptance unfold. Games with simple rules can all be helpful at this stage. For example, games like tag or hopscotch for younger ones and more complex sports and teamwork for older children.
After age 11, games with rules are more accessible. Children begin to develop the ability to reason and think hypothetically. This is where discussions around abstract concepts like fairness, values, and time and space can be introduced. Children now desire more competitive games and more complex rules with less direction from adults.
Play is how children learn and explore the world around them. It helps them to develop their cognitive skills, learn new information, and practice social skills. This is how self-regulation, communication, and problem-solving skills develop and interests and relationships arise. All this leads to children gaining a better understanding of their place in the world. They’ll discover who they are, thus contributing to self-esteem and a more well-rounded individual. And this process doesn’t stop in adulthood. It’s important that adults find a time that is unstructured, relaxing, and sensory to reconnect with the inner creative child.