Entering Your Child's World of Creativity and Imagination

by Nancy Monson

Children come in all different sizes, colors, shapes and forms. So does creativity. It is limitless in its manifestations, just as science is still discovering the endless marvels of creation. The definition of creativity is "to produce, construct, something new and original in thought or imagination." All children are creative, however too much emphasis is placed on children being creative in the arts. "Something new and original" can be in ANY area of life. We need to give children a chance to live in a magical world free of adult expectations long enough to contact their own brand of creativity. Every person comes into the world with unique gifts. For us to know what these are in each child, we need to watch, listen, be free of ideas of who we "think" our children are and patient to let the gifts be revealed. AND...we need to find different ways to enter into and participate in our child's world of creativity and imagination.

As parents, the most difficult task in raising children is helping them to find meaning in life. At a young age children begin to ask: "Who am I? Where did I come from? How did the world come into being? Who created man and all the animals? What is the purpose of life?" As Piaget has shown, the child's thinking remains animistic (the belief that natural objects possess life) until the age of puberty. Because children live in a world where magic is real they believe in fairies, spirits, monsters, fairy tales and super powered characters. They lack the abstract understanding to make sense of realistic explanations about how the world works. If we try and push our explanations on children too early, it cuts off their imagination and creativity. Creativity comes from the belief in the impossible, the new, the miraculous. It is this kind of open mindedness that finds solutions to world problems, stimulates original thinking and takes mankind towards deeper truths.

When and why does a child start to lose contact with their imagination, which is the seed bed of creativity? Imagination has to do with wonder, awe, curiosity, inventiveness and creativity. Watch young children play. They speak to inanimate objects giving them life. They solve problems by acting them out and inventing characters, magical places and things. When and where as children do we remember our imaginations expanding? I played endlessly out doors, in my bedroom or basement. It didn't take much to create a whole world. I acted, danced, drew, sang made up songs. My stuffed animals were my friends, my family or my students.

Children need time and space to use their imaginations. The biggest loss of free play-time is sitting in front of a t.v. or computer or by too many planned activities. The emphasis on the development of the intellect is started too young, robbing children of the time to experience life through their bodies and natural curiosity. We are ending up with children at a younger and younger age who are constantly bored unless they are entertained, who don't enjoy reading, who can't think of anything to write about in creative writing, and who are content to sit for endless hours in front of the television or computer.

Creativity comes from the inner depths. It's like a seed that will only sprout if given the right nutrients. Help keep your child's imagination alive. Go on walks in nature and find fairy dens, spirits of the trees and plants, make up stories about children lost in the woods who are helped by animals who can talk and have magical powers. Time outside is one of the best stimulants for imagination because the natural world provides endless avenues of exploration. Provide your children with dress up clothes from the Salvation Army, your old clothes, or scarves. Let them put on little presentations for you of stories they make up or have heard. Make masks or paint faces. Make music listening or dancing a regular activity. Expose them to all different kinds of music from all over the world. I have not yet found a child who doesn't like to move their body to good rhythms. Children needless toys than many of them have. A toy, doll or stuffed animal becomes special to a child when a relationship is developed through hours of play. Watch your children and observe what they are drawn to: music, art, dancing, play acting, building, cooking, planting. Provide opportunities for them to do these activities more but don't be pushy. Let things unfold. Read fairy tales to your children, be animated, read them more than once. Make up stories with your children, let them tell you stories. I highly recommend reading "The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales" by Bruno Bettelheim. These are all wonderful ways to let your imagination be reawakened, and it's fun! I'm always a little stiff when I start to enter the child's world of play, but my own playfulness always returns.
Children also need quiet time to experience stillness, to be with themselves without any stimulation. This can be done with "special time." Candle light, relaxing music, a silent house, time alone are necessary in order for children to come to know themselves and their inner feelings.

I once read a book about a boy who went blind when he was 8. He told his parents about his inner world, which was filled with colors and light. They listened and believed him. When he grew up he said his parents support was the most important factor in him having a rich and creative life devoid of self-pity for being blind. What did your parents or teachers support you in? I loved to write and my father helped me to put together a neighborhood newspaper. He never once judged the content and this helped me believe in myself as a writer. Child's play develops confidence through constant exploration of identity, observations of the world and unanswered questions. An excellent exercise is to go back to your childhood and try and remember times of creativity and imagination, and where it was allowed to flower. Then allow and encourage this flower to grow within your child.

© Nancy Monson, 2005. All rights reserved.

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