Tuesday, October 20

9 Ways to Help Spark Your Child's Imagination...

A stick fort for children to play in at Longwood Gardens

Read, read, read! Taking the time to sit down with your little one for a little reading time is the perfect way to help them increase their imagination. Each story you read together opens their world a little more. Try to find books that are worth both your time and theirs! Several sites have extensive booklists to help you choose good children's literature - whether you are building your own collection or borrowing from the library. Here are some lists to consider: Ambleside Online Preschool/Kindergarten, Along the Alphabet Path, Early Read-Alouds.

Turn off the Tube! I am the first to admit that my children watch television. They like PBS programs and enjoy one or two shows each day. Everything in moderation, though! It is very tempting for those of us who have television to use it as a way to keep our kids occupied for a little while while we do things without being bothered by them. While I don't think that is a problem once in awhile (it is nice to cook without someone trying to steal the cheese, dip their fingers into the milk, or scorch their hair on the stove!), it can very quickly get out of hand. It is a much better idea to help teach your children to go play when you need a bit of time. The less time they watch tv, the more they are working on a craft, reading/looking through books, playing with toys, spending time outside, etc. Guide your children when they seem to be at a loss for something to do and make it fun!

Some Ideas:
  • Why don't you cook me some delicious stew to go with the bread I'm making? Guide your child to their play kitchen or offer them some of the veggie scraps you're going to throw away, the cutting board and a child safe knife.
  • Would you like to give your baby a bath while I vacuum? Set your child up with a plastic baby doll, a sink with some warm water, a washcloth and the stepstool.
  • Here's the hungry elephant! He wants to eat all the crumbs we dropped while we were eating our lunch! Hand your child a small hand vac or a cute crumb vac and watch your little one happily spend time cleaning up!
Tell Stories! Preschoolers love to hear stories that you make up or that you tell them of the past. There are many stories that we grew up on that are easy to tell to your children. Ones like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, etc. Pre-schoolers love to hear stories about when they were babies or when you were a child. Prepare yourself to tell these stories over, and over, and over again. Oral storytelling helps children to build their imagination as they picture the stories that you tell them in their little heads. It is an entirely different experience than listening to mom or dad read a picture book. Try it!

Playing Store

Offer Toys that Encourage Imagination! Toys that do only one thing are really not very interesting after awhile. When you have a toy that is open- ended and encourages you to try new and different things with it, you can be entertained for hours! Take a set of blocks for example. A child can use them to build towers. She can build a house, a castle, a church, or a store. She can add a train set to the blocks to build a little town. She can make patterns, use the blocks for food in her pretend kitchen, set up a tea party for her animals... The possibilities are endless when you have an open-ended toy to play with.

Help Your Child Imagine! Often times we kind of expect that our children will know what to do with a toy when it is handed to them. Without trying to impede their creativity, you can guide your child when he seems stumped. For example, your child is hanging off your leg while you are trying to vacuum. You could say to your little one, "Why don't you play with some of the thousands of toys your father and I have for you?" or you could say, "Sugar Plum, I think I hear someone crying! I do! It is your baby, Baby Claudia! She must be hungry or maybe her diaper is dirty!" Usually, that is just enough to send a child off running!

Music! Introduce your child to all sorts of different composers and musicians. Encourage them to dance and move to the music. One favorite cd in our home is Peter and the Wolf. Our little ones never tire of hearing it. We also have classical music, country music, showtunes, Disney songs, and oldies playing at some point every day. In the age of mp3's, it is quite easy to build a nice collection of different styles of music very quickly and cheaply.

Fireman climbing up the ladder

Crafts! Contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be crafty to create with your little ones! With the internet and a printer at your disposal, you can find all sorts of directions for crafts to try with your children. Elizabeth Foss has two excellent articles that I think you will find to be good for deciding what to stock in your crafting arsenal and also how to handle crafting practically.

Time Outside! For some reason time outside used to seem like such a huge stressful chore for me. I either wanted my kids strapped into their stroller or I wanted to be at a place where there was something for them to do (like a playground). I felt like if I had some playground equipment or a sandbox, or some shade from a tree older than our son things would be easier. Then one day, I handed my daughter a child sized spade, her bug house, and a magnifying glass. Time outside magically became easier! Even our little guy who cannot sit still for three seconds loves to dig in the dirt and ride his little bike up and down the walkway. Yes, it is messy. You know what though? Everything and everybody is washable. Have fun in the dirt. Bring out the hose. Blow bubbles, draw with chalk, water the flowers, ride bikes, etc. If you have a hard time like I did, write down a list of things you can do with your little one outside and then do one thing each day!

Free Time! It is so tempting to fill your child's days with activities, classes, and playdates. Home should be the place that you want to spend as much time as possible. Try to limit your outside activities to a couple of times a week and then just hang out at home! When there aren't unnecessary trips out and demands upon your time, children can actually play with the toys that you have. They can make crafts at the kitchen table and read the books on their shelf. They can actually come up with imaginative games and ideas to entertain themselves with. Life will be more fun and less harried. Trips out will be enjoyed more and times when you go to activities geared toward children will be much more appreciated.

Special thanks again to New Mom for suggesting this topic!


Christine said...

What a wonderful entry! I am pretty new to the blog-world, but have been reading your blog quite regularly since finding it. Very inspiring. I have no idea how to make a link here, but I did write about my daughter watching television recently - and how easy it is to become a habit! Like you, I believe "everything in moderation" and she does watch a show or two on PBS a few times a week (as a matter of fact, she is begging me to turn one on right now:( ) But I love your reminders on open-end toys and specific examples/ways to guide the children to play on their own! Thank you so much for sharing!

Courtney said...

Great entry! I'm especially a fan of #9. I call it "benign neglect" and just let the boys be. They always keep themselves occupied. I don't understand it when my mom friends tell me that can't get anything done with their kids around. These two, at least, could spend hours putting pennies in a jar or thousands of other games of their own devising. This morning they spent about half an hour "lawnmowing" with two rolling suitcases while I played catch-up on my email!

Kate said...

I'm tempted to print this out and keep it in my files of things to remember and pass down to my children when they're ready for a home and family of their own.

If I had a bigger kitchen (or a smaller radiator in the kitchen, I'd put the toy kitchen right in there! Right now the toy kitchen is in the basement play room. While I let my kids help as much as possible, sometimes they just can't (or don't want to) but want/need to be right there. Instead, I put a chalk board on a lower cabinet so they can draw. I'm going to get the Melissa and Doug wooden magnetic letters for them for Christmas, too (my cabinets are vintage '50's metal.)

Michelle M. said...

Great post, Emma! I have always loved to see the toys that you children play with. I really need to go through my son's and purge a lot. It seems like he just makes a mess, and the toys that he plays with the most just get mixed up with everything else. Thanks!!

Alicia said...

Thanks for this wonderful post, Emma! I love Elizabeth's blog - I just finally ordered her book yesterday, and those articles were gems that came before I began reading blogs a couple of years ago. I found books at the library and bookmarked links. Thank you!

Elizabeth said...

This is really an excellent post. All of your ideas are great ones and are based on sound principles. I did a lot of these things when my children were young and I believe they benefited from it immensely.

By the way, I love your Fall nature shelf!

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