They are important for a number of developmental reasons too.
A good imagination builds communication and thinking skills, and encourages good problem-solving techniques as children create, using props and toys, their own imaginary worlds, similar to the adult world around them. A creative spirit, while helping to build fine motor skills (such as holding a paint brush or pencil), also promotes self-expression, leading to good mental and emotional health.
However, there is no need to break out the glitter and glue-gun and start scouring Pinterest for the latest craft activities (although, it wouldn’t hurt). A few simple activities will get your little one’s creative juices flowing, and probably even yours!
Create fantasy worlds
Allow your child unstructured play time, either indoors or out, and provide props and costumes to encourage ‘pretend’ games. If you are particularly resourceful, make puppets that you and your children can use in a puppet show behind a repurposed – and decorated - cardboard box.
An outdoor kitchen, a popular feature in many playschools, can really inspire your toddler. Set out an old table, cabinet or bookshelf in the garden and fill it with unused pots, pans and cutlery. Encourage your child to make a mud pie, flower petal soup or anything imaginable.
Encourage music and dance
Sing songs with your toddler – either from a book of nursery rhymes or buy a CD with popular children’s songs on it and act out the words and actions together. Or, turn your own music on and have a dance party!
There are many music and dance classes aimed at toddlers – Dance Mouse is aimed at toddlers to primary school-age children and encourages self-expression; Kindermusik is said to spark creativity and also helps with many other skills, such as language and comprehension.
Inspire creative thinking with a bit of undirected play time with a variety of artistic materials. Lay out large pieces of paper in the garden and provide your child with various paint brushes, sponges, paints, crayons, glue, glitter and bits and pieces from the garden (stones, leaves, seedpods etc), and allow your little one to create their own masterpiece.
Consider also painting a wall of your child’s room in blackboard paint, available from most hardware shops, provide a supply of colourful chalk and give your child’s artistic expression free reign.
Take a discovery box on a walk in a park, around your neighbourhood or even in your back garden, and fill it with ‘treasures’ that you find. It could be stones, seedpods, fallen leaves, feathers, interesting bark and pinecones. Set these out on a table or large piece of paper when you get home and label them, discuss them and encourage touching all the interesting textures.
The power of reading
Reading is an excellent activity to help develop all sorts of skills. Besides language and comprehension skills, reading also fires up children’s imaginations. Try to limit screen time, which includes the television, PlayStation games and tablets, as this puts a serious damper on the creative spirit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommend no screen time for children younger than two and one to two hours of supervised screen time for those over two. Instead, read together; create a reading nook, complete with cushions, blankets and perhaps even a ‘roof’ created with a propped up sheet.
Linda Williams, a 33-year-old mom from Benoni, thinks imagination is very important in her two-year-old boy Logan. “While they are little, I think a child should feel that the possibilities are endless, and through their imaginings, anything can happen. They can explore and learn and grow their mind, without bounds. Logan loves to sing, and doing so really improves his memory of words. We also do a lot of drawing, painting and cutting and gluing activities, such as making collages,” says Linda.
Above all, strive to provide the resources they need for creativity to bloom, offer opportunities for undirected, unstructured play, allow them space for their (often) messy creations and offer constant encouragement. Emphasise that the process of creation is more important than the end result.
Additional resources: Theimaginationtree.com; Livestrong.com; Whattoexpect.com; Dancemouse.co.za; Kindermusik.co.za
Author bio: Loren Shirley-Carr is a freelance journalist and mother to one toddler and two teenage foster boys. When she is not in her car ferrying children about, or in the kitchen cooking meals that no one will eat, she can be found at her desk writing. Find her firstname.lastname@example.org
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