For those of us who had imaginative childhoods, I’m sure one of the biggest questions on any parent’s mind is, “How do I improve my child’s imagination?” To me, there is nothing more beautiful than the imagination of a child. When I was little, in elementary school, I wanted to fly. The dream of flight preoccupied me all through my hated math lessons and every monotonous school assembly as well. At recess, I would run around with all kinds of contraptions designed to lift me into the wind. The fact that I never managed to launch myself never really seemed to bother me. You see, children have within them the ability to imagine their way past reality. They can walk the woods and feel the fairy spirits as they dance between the trees. They can see monsters under the bed who like bananas. Their world is one of endless wonder and captivating magic.
Now that I’m all grown up and then some, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. Our children’s imaginations are fading, not imperceptibly over time but massively, as though their tender thoughts were being run over by a dump truck. The imaginary world our children should inhabit is one that is under increasing threat. Collectively, the toys our children play with tell them what to think, what to see, and how to play. Their play is being scripted to fall within certain boundaries, and the toys themselves allow only a narrow, constrained kind of play. Not only that, but then there’s screens which we’ll get to in a moment.
Toys first: Toys are defined for a certain kind of play.
Well, imagination is like a muscle. Use it, and it gets better and better. Don’t, and it might just be lost for ever. And that’s what’s happening to the most precious resource our children have: it’s disappearing into a world of defined play, and that’s when they’re off their screens. When they’re on them, their imagination is squashed, their creativity is numbed, and their future eyesight is ruined, to name but a few issues.
Children who are not glued to their screens are more likely to be playing with toys that encourage them to stay within the lines and “think in the box” rather than letting their imaginations run wild. Creatively, is trampled. Self-expression is blanketed by a sea of dead thinking. The rules of play may be unspoken, but they are rules nonetheless.
And because the play is so restricted, it barely registers on the imaginative scale, and children lose interest quickly. Marketers know this, and so children get stuck on a treadmill of needing something new just to stay entertained. They reach out for the next toy in the series or the next “must-have” character because they think that is what they want, or they find solace in their parents’ phones. Children are being taught to constantly need new toys, just as a cocaine addict becomes desperate for their fix. Despite satisfying the child’s immediate desire, parents should expect their child to quickly become dissatisfied. That’s because none of these toys truly meet a child’s needs, and as a result, their desire is limitless.
How do I improve my child’s imagination? Remember the KISS principle.
These same “wants” drive the insane shopping craze at Christmas for products that will be quickly forgotten. The fear of their child being disappointed on Christmas morning is understandable and compelling. But what’s at stake here is something monumental. Just at a time in history where we face all sorts of challenges on many fronts, we’re killing the imagination of those on whom we must most rely to think outside the box: our children. We need their creativity and imagination, their love and wonder. Their imaginations are our future. So when you ask the question, “How can I improve my child’s imagination?” Look no further than providing simple and stimulating play toys and opening the door. Let’s look after our kids’ imaginations. They are so precious.
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