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Can Books Really Help Your Kids Learn About Imagination?

Updated: Aug 12, 2022

Watch the video to learn how reading and the imagination go hand in hand. Learn tips for how to use reading at home to increase your child’s imagination. The video goes over each age range as you watch. You won’t want to miss it.

Today was an incredibly fun day. I was able to watch my son create anything his little mind could come up with. We spread out everything he could possibly want to use for arts and crafts. Without prompting him, I allowed him to figure out what he wanted to do with everything. We put away items he didn’t need for his project and set himself up for success with his ideas for what he wanted to create. Let me just stress “He, Him, and His” a little bit more. My son may only be four, but it is important to let HIM see the outcome of his own imagination, critical thinking skills, and HIS own ideas.

By the end of the day he had a giant letter decorated for his name’s sake. (We mailed later the next day.) He completed a landscape art piece with a guy riding a bike up a hill. Then finally, he created Aladdin’s secret hideout using a leftover box and some finger paint.

He continued to play in the box the rest of the afternoon. Aladdin’s secret hideout became a McDonald’s drive thru, a bakery, and a construction site. There was no prompting, directions, or guidance: only fun and exploration. I was there to help of course, but HE made the rules, made the plans and asked for what help he needed.

Why is Imagination so Important?

Let’s backtrack just a bit. The imagination is such a powerful thing. It’s a great idea to encourage your kids to come up with their own ideas starting from a young age. It will increase their problem solving skills, and help them to become critical thinkers. Critical thinking leads to lots of positives (Grades in school not the least of these). Without imagination, we would have a very different world, don’t you think? When confronted with everyday problems we must “imagine” something that could fix it. The invention of the wheel, the car, the fishing rod, and electricity were all “imagined” by someone once upon a time.

How do books lead to imagination?

Okay, now we have to backtrack just a little bit more… but I promise to get to the point! I’m sure some of you are asking, what does this have to do with literacy? Crafts are not necessarily “story time”. Wrong! What are we doing when crafting the perfect picture, creating a character out of a paper towel roll, or playing with playdough, if not holding stories in our minds? I’m not saying we are drafting out the next Shakespearian play in our playdough worm roll, but we are in fact imagining little stories in our minds. As I squish the playdough next to my oldest son he often tells me who or what I just squished and why it was so important that I do (I am usually saving some other town or village from a very nasty alien monster). And what do you think my son was imagining when building and then playing with Aladdin’s hideout? He was building a story in his mind. These stories shifted as his play and crafting shifted, but understanding stories leads to a healthy imagination, which will in turn, lead to a love of reading. And we all want our kids to read more!

How does this happen?

When kids are little and listening to stories, they do not know how to separate reality from fiction. I can remember the first time each of my children gave a shocked gasp during a story and cried out, “Oh No!” and I would have to respond, “Don’t worry, it’s just a story. It’s not real.” They would nod and relax and listen to what happens next.

After listening to enough stories they quickly learn to make their own. And through pretending to be the characters in the stories they love the most they learn the trick of imagination. With each story they hear or read, they build their imaginational tool box with more possibilities. Suddenly, spaceships and aliens, and pirates, and mermaids are all a possibility. And what is an invention, but the magical transition from the impossible to the possible?

Check out this video to practice story telling!

When Imagination becomes Critical Thinking

While books may begin the process of building imagination in our kids, it definitely does not end there. Kids take their imaginations everywhere they go. They use their imaginations when playing with friends or siblings, when eating at the dinner table, and even when doing their chores. But the best time to practice imaginative critical thinking skills is craft time.

There is no better way to boost creativity than to get your kids a bunch of items to play with and go! Legos, arts and crafts, a cardboard box, a bunch of dolls… whatever you give them, they will decide how they want to play with these items and create stories and events that you may never have thought of. I like to let my son choose an activity he wants to do and let him create the entire game. Sometimes he needs a little help coming up with ideas, so I give him choices and he takes my ideas and runs with them, bringing them to new levels I never would have imagined.

Modeling Critical Thinking

This is most likely not the first time you have read that modeling behavior is important for developing children, but it is! Kids like to copy and monkey see, monkey do… Always. So, while almost all kids have some imaginative bone in their body, not all kids think critically. It is important for kids to see us use our own critical thinking skills for them to learn how to tap into their own. Our brains are automatically wired to figure things out on our own (Just watch a one year old say something for the first time). However, the act of critical thinking can grow or shrivel depending on how much or often it is used. If you have never asked your kids to take a string, a marker, and a ball of tape and make something that stands on its own… maybe show them how you do it first before passing the challenge to them.

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