Monday, December 30, 2013

Exercising the Imagination Muscle

By Kim McDougall

Kim McDougall
Everyone is born with an imagination. “Let’s pretend” games such as house, doctor, construction, or space aliens are a natural extension of a child’s burgeoning creativity. Kindergarten and the earlier grades foster these talents, but as a child grows, story time is inevitably replaced by spelling or multiplication tables. The imagination muscle is left to atrophy, and children want less fanciful games to play. Few ten-year-olds would be enthralled with a game of house, but will gladly spend hours in front of the tube with or without video games. The need for imagination never goes away. As an adult, imagination can mean the difference between getting a career with job satisfaction or simply a job. Imagination is also the best resource for building family closeness.

Like any muscle, the imagination can be exercised, and as it gains in strength, it doesn’t take away from other necessary brain activities, like memorizing the multiplication tables. In fact, it enhances learning. An imagination can even make geometry fun. Did you ever wonder what Pythagoras’ life was like? Why are spelling contests called “bees?” Basic history opens up a world of possibilities for a strong imagination.

So how do you foster an imagination in your child?

Start Young

Children begin playacting at about the age of two or three. This is the best time to start fostering the imagination. Of course, reading is one of the most important mental imagery builders. Read to your children every day. When they are old enough to read themselves, read more difficult books aloud, usually one level above their own reading abilities.

Older children should be encouraged to keep a journal. Writing down everyday occurrences may seem mundane at first. Your child’s initial entries may be nothing more than: Got up.
Went to school. Did homework. Went to bed. If your child feels that he has nothing important
to express, encourage him to write just a few lines about something he saw that day, such as the bus driver’s mustache or the pigeons flocking in the park. The writing is less important than the thinking about details of the day.

Younger children can keep a scrapbook journal. Scrap-booking has become an elaborate (and expensive) pastime in recent years, but your child’s journal need not be fancy. A large book of blank pages (you can make your own), some markers and glue should do the trick. Help your child to relate in picture or collage an event in her life. Her first parade. A trip to the woods to see the fall colors. A soccer tournament. Glue in memorabilia such as movie tickets or class photos. Guide your child to focus on one event at a time, but let the memories and artwork be her own.

And Then What Happened?

My daughter’s favorite imagination game is to continue stories that we read at bedtime. At first, she had no idea how to envisage what happened to Cinderella after the royal ball. She liked the game mostly because it allowed her to stay up a bit longer. Now however, she already has her continuation ready when we finish the book. This game takes practice. Don’t be discouraged if you ask “And then what happened?” and your child shrugs and says “I don’t know.” Make up your own story to show her how it’s done. If she still struggles, prompt her with questions, giving a choice of outcomes. “What happened to the fairy god mother?” “Did she go to work for the tooth fairy?” “Did she become the wicked witch of the west?” The sillier the better. Your child will remember this game not only as fun time spent with Mom or Dad, but as a time when you listened to what she had to say.

Keep it Simple

Not every child is a writer or artist. No matter. The best ideas are the simple ones. Wishing on the first star of the evening uses imagination. Hide-and seek too. Play word games: rhyming games or silly sentences for younger children, twenty questions or “I Spy” for older ones. Start a weekly (or monthly) family game night. The classics like charades, pictionary, or Scrabble are all great imagination boosters.

And read. 

Read together. Read everywhere. At the supermarket. On the highway. Tell you child he can stay up an extra half hour if he reads quietly in bed. Start a family book club. Invite some
friends to read a new book every month and then have a get together to discuss it. Put on a favorite DVD with the sound off and the subtitles playing. Take turns reading the captions aloud.
Like any kind of exercise, toning the imagination is not easy. Sometimes it might even seem like work, but a child with an imagination is a child who can keep himself busy during a long car ride or a rainy day. Imagination helps to solve math problems as well as social conflicts. Imagination fosters a love for reading, an element of success for any career or lifestyle. And that makes the effort worthwhile. Imagine it.
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Kim McDougall is a writer and video producer with a BA in English literature from Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. She was born in Montreal and has lived in Nice, France, Toronto, Long Island, New York and now beautiful Pennsylvania. She is also a fiber artist and photographer and writes fiction for children under her pen name, Kim Chatel. Though fantasy is her first literary love, Kim writes everything from children's picture books to horror fiction. kimmcdougall.com
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