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Imagination Expanded

Posted by on in Cognitive Development
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If you’ve been following our blog posts, you will have seen the last one on the topic of pretending. It was about when pretending might start in your wee ones, why, and some implications to consider. In this post, we’d like to list out some practical ways to increase the development of your child’s imagination. We will give concrete ideas and ways to play together.

First, though, a reminder: when your wee ones start to develop imagination, be aware that little brains work differently than adult brains. (Children are not simply like adults, but small; they are different.) Little minds do not have the experiences, memories, words, or even wiring to imagine what adults find easy to imagine. This one observation has at least two practical implications: One, when helping your child imagine something, it is helpful to engage and develop all of their senses as well as all the words that go with the senses. Two, rather than simply asking the child to imagine something, many times it takes the adult doing something the first time and giving words for it, then interacting with the child in an imaginative state.

One of our jobs is to help our children simply notice the sights, sounds, feelings, etc. that we take for granted. Pointing these out will help develop the various parts of their brain (e.g. the visual cortex). We also help the child interpret what they are seeing and help them to learn the words to describe these things. As they become increasingly aware of the world around, they begin to develop something very helpful in this world: “artist’s eyes”.

Here are some tools and games that can help:

Nature                  Notice all the different colors. Examine nature: trees, shells, rocks. Children love to pick things up when they’re outside. Feel the different textures. Look at these things through a magnifying glass. Smell things: grass smells very different than dirt, and flowers differ from flowers. Listen to sounds with your eyes closed. Try to identify different sounds occurring at the same time.

Recorder             Record familiar sounds and play them back. Guess what it is. This is a fun game to play indoors on a rainy day.

Tea Set                 A tea set can be good for pretending and acting out the times we gather every day to consume food. An actual set can be especially helpful when the child is young, for the child will need fairly real objects in order to pretend until almost two years of age. For instance, a 1 ½ year old may not be able to imagine that a leaf can be a plate.

Doctor Kit            Acting out real situations can be of great benefit to everyone as it can make first-time experiences go much more smoothly. For example, it’s very difficult for a wee child to imagine what a doctor’s or dentist’s appointment will be like. So before an annual check-up, get that doctor’s kit out and act out what will happen at the office that day. Then, once the child is there, they have a context or category to put all these new experiences in. After returning home, act out what happened all over again to solidify the new words and senses. This can help memory and deferred imitation.

Bed Sheet* #1  Singing “The Wheels on the Bus” and doing all the arm movements that go along with words can be fun when everyone has an edge of a bed sheet. Use the sheet and arm movements to match what the school bus does. Point out what the wheels and wipers do in reality, then sing the verse and do the actions. Everyone can walk in a circle to make a wheel moving. For the wipers, you can drop the sheet if it’s simpler than everyone pulling side-to-side against each other.

Bed Sheet #2     Another game with the bed sheet is acting out doing the laundry. At first, the sheet is not necessary. Have your child observe when you’re actually doing laundry. Pick up a piece of clothing and smell it. Does it smell clean? Look at it. Does it look clean? Separate the clothing into different loads by color. Show the child how the machine is loaded, where you push the start button, etc. (Be sure to tell them that the only time they can help with this is when you are there.) Once the process is taught and demonstrated, get around the sheet and pretend it is the washing machine. Throw in the imaginary laundry, put in the pretend soap, have the “water” start running, swing hands for the swish cycle, and hang it up for the drying. (This is also an excellent, fun way to practice following directions.)

Textures              Take small square samples of different materials – different types of cloth, paper, bubble wrap, etc. – and make a matching game. The first step for the child is to experience what is the same and what is different, thus trying to find the match. The second step, which the adult can aid in, is to talk about the material and to think about and to explore what things around them might look or feel like each piece of material.

Newspaper        Cut out a three-picture comic strip and then cut the three pictures out individually. See if the child can put them back in the correct order. (The adult can read the words to them.) Then make up a silly order just for the fun of it. Then the child might be interested in making their own comic with a beginning, middle, and end.

These ideas are all hitting on different forms of using the imagination, developing their ability to pretend and think in different ways. For example, Telling stories is a pre-literate (pre-reading) skill. Identifying colors is a pre-art skill. Acting things out uses the memory and develops dramatic arts. Any game you can play that reinforces what they’ve already experienced develops their imagination, even pretending to read a book! All of these activities can be applied at different ages to both girls and boys to develop the whole brain by being creative.

At some point after 2 years of age, most children start using things that aren’t real to pretend to do something. They will grow much faster in their ability to pretend if an adult is doing it with them. Enjoy your child’s imagination, joining them in their pretending, and even helping them develop it!

*At a preschool, a parachute may be used for these games.

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