How important do you think imagination is to someone’s ultimate success and happiness in life? If you answered “the imagination is one of the single most important factors out there”, you might just be onto something.
Everything that we see around us in the world ultimately began in the imagination of some enterprising and creative person. Every building, every appliance, software program, book, painting, political ideology, or cultural trend was once nothing more than a seed that took root in the world of imagination, before being expressed physically by those who were inspired by the potential they saw in the idea.
Estate agent fees, building blueprints, and poetic manuscripts — all of these come from the imagination.
For that reason, helping to encourage your child’s imagination may arguably be one of your most important duties as a parent — and one of the best ways of ensuring that your child enjoys a decent level of fulfilment and well-being in later life.
Here are some tips for helping you to achieve this.
Keep them away from screens
The digital world comes with many benefits, ranging from a greater-than-ever-before capacity for learning, to an almost limitless number of ways to organise your life, pursue self-development, and enjoy the arts.
With that being said, however, there are also some very serious potential drawbacks to staying glued to a screen for a significant length of time — especially for children.
Digital media and TV present super-normal stimuli. That is, they take certain features of the real or imaginary worlds, make them dramatically more visceral, vivid, large, and loud, and then beam them directly to us.
One of the consequences of this is that we can become desensitised to less vivid forms of recreation, such as books and conventional board games. What once might have excited us now feels dull and dry by comparison.
On the other hand, screens also engage our imagination to a far lesser degree than things like books do. Instead of having to visualise the worlds we read about, and imagine ourselves being there, we have those worlds mapped and designed for us directly by the creators of the show, game, or film.
One of the best ways of safeguarding and encouraging your child’s imagination, is to keep them away from screens.
Encourage them to read, read to them, and play them audiobooks
As touched on in the previous point, books provide one of the best possible mediums available for encouraging the imagination to thrive and run free, as all of the action and intrigue within a book is played out on the canvas of the imagination of the reader.
The author may describe an event, but the way you visualise it will be unique to you, and will require you participate in the act of world-building directly.
For children, in particular, reading books, having books read to them, or listening to audiobooks, can be the doorway to the ever-deepening practice and refinement of the imagination.
Another excellent feature of books is that they can address an endless variety of themes and subjects, and inspire your child to think of things from different angles. One book may give them an insight into the mind of a king, while another may make them see the world from the perspective of a pauper. In another book, they be put in the shoes of a superhero, and in yet another, they may be a child adventurer.
Get them involved in straightforward, “low-tech” games
Board Games, card games, and other “low-tech” forms of entertainment rely almost exclusively on the imagination rather than on the adrenaline cycle that’s stimulated by vastly more graphic and visceral video games.
When a family is playing a game of Monopoly, Carcassonne, or Catan, they aren’t being wowed by the graphics and lights of the game, they’re participating in a shared imaginative world where the competition for little pieces of plastic or cardboard, transform into battles over resources, properties, wealth, land, and so on.
If you have any doubt that these low-tech games can be immensely fun and satisfying for the children who participate in them, all you need to do is to look at how generations before the internet age entertained themselves. You’ll find that children were as excitable as ever, and managed to have a great and exciting time with relatively low-tech forms of entertainment.
Another benefit to these games is that they inspire imagination in a social context, rather than a purely individual one.