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8 ways to nurture your child's imagination
Imagination helps children become adept at solving problems and facing challenges. Here are tips for helping your toddler develop imaginative thinking – and you can both have fun along the way!
For more ideas and insights, read our article on raising an imaginative child.
Use books for inspiration
Reading is crucial to intellectual development, but it also helps spark imagination. Choose books with large, colorful illustrations, and since text doesn't matter as much to a toddler, make up stories to go with the pictures. When your child is ready, he can help you invent the plot, complete with funny voices for all the characters.
Invent your own story
Sometimes a little spontaneous storytelling hits the spot. Use your surroundings as a jumping-off point, or just make up something crazy out of the blue. Make your child the hero. Eventually she'll be able to tell you a story – with herself as the star!
Sing, bang, whistle
Structured music classes are great, but giving your child toy instruments, dancing to lively music, and singing with her are all wonderful ways to encourage musical improvisation – a creative process that stimulates the imagination.
Limit screen time
As tempting as it is to hand a fussy toddler your smartphone or give yourself a break by letting him watch a video, it's best to keep it to a minimum. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time at all for kids younger than 2, although many families allow a small amount. For toddlers, limiting screen time to 30 minutes a day is a good idea.
Provide plenty of props
Dramatic play is more than just a way to while away the hours. Many young children learn how to manage their daily lives by playacting. Pretending helps toddlers develop verbal and social skills, and even work through emotions that might otherwise be scary, like feeling sad or afraid.
Put props and dress-up clothes in a special bin or box – and the simpler they are, the better to get kids to use their imaginations. Skip the superhero costume in favor of a blanket or towel that can be made into any kind of cape!
Accept the quirks
Toddler behavior can sometimes be hard for adults to understand. Your daughter wants to wear her tutu to daycare? How unacceptable! But kids don't think this way. Take a moment before you make this an issue. Who will it really hurt? In the grand scheme, it may be nothing to worry about.
Welcome your child's imaginary friends
It's perfectly normal for kids to develop an imaginary friend. Experts see it as the sign of a creative, social child who has discovered a way to cope with fears or concerns. It’s also a phase, so calmly play along, unless the friend gets blamed for bad behavior. Then it’s time for your child (and the friend) to clean up any mess and apologize.
Set some limits
It's okay to occasionally bend the rules for fun, but it's important to let your child know that reality is the final stop on the imaginary play train. So let your little one build a pirate ship under the kitchen table – just not during dinner.