Children can have no better tool in life than an imagination. Being able to visualize possible outcomes to situations allows kids to problem-solve life’s hardships or projects throughout their school years and as they navigate their future careers. My own middle-grade novel, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, features a young girl, Auggie, who uses her own imagination to devise a way to prove to her wealthier classmates that she is not as “run-down” as her old house might suggest, and eventually to discover her own hidden talent as a folk artist.
To encourage your child’s imagination, try these simple activities, which will nurture their brainstorming and problem-solving abilities, and maybe even allow them to find their own hidden talents in the process.
- Draw napkins for dinner. Paper napkins decorated with crayon images make a fun addition each night to your table. It also helps your child get in the habit of brainstorming new ideas.
- Tell stories in a “round.” Turn off the TV, and begin telling a story out loud. Each member of the family will contribute something to the story before passing it on to another member. This takes the pressure off of your children having to come up with an entire story on their own.
- Play “what if” while reading aloud. At regular intervals while reading a novel aloud, stop to ask your child what he or she thinks will happen next.
- Incorporate your child in your own activities. Do you play an instrument? Try playing a familiar melody and asking your child to make up lyrics. Are you a photographer? Ask your children to title your pictures.
- Help them make school supplies unique. Something as simple as a brown paper textbook cover (instructions for creating them are readily available online) can give your children the opportunity to create something special with stickers, glitter, paint and glue.
- Get them involved in picking out their school clothes. Younger children especially will take great pride in putting together what they will wear to school each day. As they grow, their style of dress can actually become a mode of self-expression.
- Illustrate a story they’ve just read. Once your child finishes a book he or she really enjoyed, have them draw a picture of their favorite character or scene from the story.
- Take a trip to the museum. As you explore the exhibits, ask your children what made an artist paint or sculpt a specific project. This also encourages them to interpret the meaning behind each work of art.
- Have costume night. Announce that everyone is to come to the dinner table dressed up as their favorite character or celebrity. Each family member has to guess who everyone is. Consider having a fun prize for the child who guesses the most costumes correctly.
- Decorate their room. Depending on your budget, allow your child to change the interior of his or her room as interests change. Pictures on the wall, a new comforter, even just rearranging the furniture can give the room a refreshed look and feel.
Encouraging your children to express themselves from a young age can make their imaginations flourish—and can make them feel as though their voice matters, just as Auggie does in The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky. As is the case with Auggie, imagination and problem-solving can be the tools that change the course of a child’s life.
Holly Schindler is a former music teacher and the author of two young adult novels, A Blue So Dark, and Playing Hurt. Her first middle-grade novel, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, was released on February 6, 2014.