Creative Thinking & Imagination for Child Development

by Cassie McKeown, Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool

Cleo, a 4-year-old preschooler, excitedly told her Mom, “…and then we drank purple milk that came from a purple cow.”

Webster defines imagination as “the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced; the ability to think of new things.” Every child is born with an imagination. Parents and other adults often nurture children’s imaginations and take joy in their creative thoughts and acts. Other times, we might (deliberately or unknowingly) stifle imagination, perhaps concerned that children don’t understand what’s real.

Most children older than three, however, know that purple cows don’t really exist, but they enjoy opportunities to imagine and think creatively. According to Susan Engel, Ph.D., author of Real Kids: Creating Meaning in Everyday Lives, “Two and a half year olds understand the distinction between real and pretend. But when they’re in play mode, they can lose sight of that distinction, or it becomes unimportant.”

Creativity for Kids: Tips for Nurturing Creative Minds

  • Spend time outdoors. The benefits of nature for child development are endless. Because nature is ever changing, it provides countless opportunities for discovery, creativity, and problem solving. The natural world inspires children to think, ask questions,  and develop creative minds. Children can draw in sand, make designs with twigs, build forts with branches, or simply lie on the ground and look up at the sky
  • Invent scenarios. When your child invents a scenario, they try on lots of different roles and organizes his thoughts while developing social and verbal skills. Encourage your child to play house, doctor, zoo, farm, space station, school, or store. Join in the imaginative play by taking on a role yourself. Play with stuffed toys or puppets (make simple puppets by putting your hand in a sock). Let your child lead your playtime together. If your child is into superheroes, think of the power your child might want as his own superpower feeling. Consider having your child create a new superhero!
  • Verbal activities. From rhymes to riddles, silly sounds to phonics, games such as “I Spy” or making up lyrics to common tunes, verbal interactive activities can inspire and nurture creative minds. Simultaneously, these activities build vocabulary and help your child learn phonics. These games are also the perfect and fun way to spend time in car rides.

  • Encourage art activities. Art is creative expression that nurtures imagination, not a lesson in following directions. Through painting, sculpture, collage, clay, drawing or any other medium, art is a way for children to work through emotions, make decisions, and express their ideas. Manipulating art materials provides a sense of freedom yet also encourages focus and concentration. Art activities also develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Furthermore, art activities build confidence because children gain a sense of mastery over materials resulting in a new creation.
  • Share literacy activities. Make reading time memorable and discuss other possible scenarios or endings for the story by using your child’s imagination. Make up stories with your child, at times with her as the main character; other times propose moral dilemmas. Take turns making up a continuing story.
  • Ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions. Asking questions that provoke imaginative and creative thinking is an effective way to invite your child to express his ideas and share his visions, while giving him the message that his ideas are important. “What do you think would happen if….?” “What’s the difference between a dog and a cat?” “What are some other ways to do this?”
  • Limit screen time (television, movies, computer, tablet, smart phone, handhelds, video games, etc.). Nurturing imagination and parenting in the digital age can be tough. Focusing on a screen is a passive way of learning for children. An alternative would be to encourage children to create something new and different. Engaging children in a kinesthetic manner using their entire bodies and their five senses also opens the mind.
  • Remember to allow for down time. Unstructured, unscheduled time allows children opportunities to imagine and create.

Creative Thinking & Imagination

Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When children participate in creative play with dolls, vehicles, blocks, rocks, cardboard, or boxes, they are learning.

Employing creative thinking with play dough, creating recipes by mixing dirt and water, working with art materials, splashing in puddles, or pretending to fly can further child development.

Imagining, trying new ways of doing things, and experimenting help develop critical thinking in children and foster creative problem solving. And, imagination builds social-emotional development when children think about different resolutions, for example when playing pretend, which boosts confidence when interacting with others.

Early childhood is the peak time to nurture children’s imaginations. So if your child comes home and says, “…and then we drank purple milk that came from a purple cow,” or something similar, offer encouragement for their creativity and imagination.

Looking for new places to learn about parenting and early childhood development, click here to discover family resources from Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool:

About the Author

Cassie McKeown is a Marketing Manager at Bright Horizons Early Education and Preschool. Bright Horizons is a PEPS sponsor!

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: