Herald Journal Columns
Jan. 24, 2005, Herald Journal

Encourage imagination and creativity in children


Children are our most valuable resource, and we, as parents and adults, help them learn and grow. We love, care for them, guide, and teach them.

Brain research tells us that there are things that we can do that will have positive and permanent effects on a child’s learning potential and their ability to learn.

The research shows that an infant’s brain, at birth, has 100 billion nerve cells or neurons. The neurons grow and connect with other neurons that control various functions such as seeing, hearing, and moving.

These connections are vital to learning. If a child’s brain is not stimulated from birth, the neurons don’t develop, impairing a child’s ability to learn and develop, according to the web site www.loveaby.com.

• Infants: Dr. Phil, in his book, “Family First,” encourages parents and caregivers to provide such toys as mobiles that can be moved and touched, or colorful pictures and objects that may help develop an infant’s brain. Toys that engage as many of the five senses as possible are important.

• Toddlers benefit from balls, blocks, cars, pull toys, simple puzzles, musical instruments, stuffed animals, and dolls.

• When children turn three to about five, they begin to use their imaginations, so encourage them with construction and building sets, washable crayons or markers, and modeling clay or Playdough.

• From ages six to nine, hobby sets, sports toys, computer software, construction toys, and books with uplifting messages are good play items. Educational toys that promote problem-solving skills, such as counting, math games, and board games, are great toys too.

• From ages 10 to 12, complex construction sets, age-appropriate board games, science kits, and art kits are great activities.

Taking your child to appropriate cultural events, such as plays and concerts (school plays and concerts are great, too), and traveling to new places, such as local museums, are stimulating activities for children.

Stephen Camarata, deputy director of the Kennedy Research on Developmental Disabilities at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, is convinced that encouraging children to imagine helps them “build a better brain,” according to the website, www.tennessean.com.

Experts continuously encourage limiting the amount of TV children watch or video games they play because when a child is engaged in these activities, he or she is passively absorbing information and not getting the stimulating effect of more participatory and imaginative activities. (Granted, there are some great children’s programs, such as “Dora” and “Blue’s Clues,” that try and engage children by asking them questions as if the characters are talking to just them – my four-year-old daughter is certain they are).

Designer of Loveaby Lullabyes products, Kristina Bublick also advises parents to encourage curiosity in their children. She suggests child-proofing your home and let ting your child roam and explore his/her new world. This encourages intellectual development and stimulates creativity.

Preset craft projects are fun, but many times, don’t require children to be creative and use their imaginations. Art projects, where children have more latitude in choice- and decision-making when creating their works of art, require and allow children’s imaginations to soar.

Encourage children to use their imaginations when creating an art project. Instead of telling them what colors a certain project should be, allow them to choose their own colors. (Maybe they want their apple to be purple, instead of red – they may have invented a new type of apple variety!)

As one exercises the body, one can exercise the brain, too. Playing games that stimulate the mind, particularly those that contain the element of strategy, will build verbal skills and improve powers of concentration, perception, and reasoning, which give the grey matter a workout.

Some recommendations for brain-building games that can be done as a family are: chess, checkers, crossword puzzles, cryptograms, word jumbles, scrabble, solving brain teasers, and mathematical puzzles.

Another idea to boost thinking skills and creativity is to cut the captions off of cartoons and create new captions with your child.

More ideas for imaginative play

Have a camp-out inside during the cold winter months. Put up a small tent or a self-made blanket and table/chair tent and have some flashlights and paper cups available for some flashlight fun.

Here’s what you do: carefully poke holes with a pencil point, nail, or pen in a design on the bottom of a cup. In a dark room or tent, shine the flashlight into the cup to see a pattern of light on the wall or ceiling. Use additional cups to make different patterns. Turn cups to get a kaleidoscope effect.

For more imaginative fun, make animals on the wall with your hands and flashlight shadows.

Also, see who can tell the funniest joke, the scariest story, or the silliest rhyme, or make up silly or scary stories together, with each person taking turns adding to the story dialogue (a round-robin story).

Most important: have fun

Just plain spending time with your child, having fun, and giving them some undivided attention are probably some of the most important things that we can do for our children.

“Personally, I think love is the most essential ingredient. Warmth and affection are the prime considerations for healthy brain development. But from then on, expose them to a variety of experiences.”

– Professor Marian Diamond