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Little Ways You Can Build Your Kid’s Imagination Before Bed

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My kids love to play make believe with their stuffed animals. On any given day, the animals might have a track meet, school, or a field trip to a museum. Just the other day, I was invited to attend a swap meet with the animals. The invitation stated that I should bring a few items to swap. Little did I know that this highly organized swap meet had tables, tents, and an entire hallway full of goods for swapping. It even included a lemonade and snack stand for refreshments! I’ve also seen my kids attempt to make conveyor belts, dig a pond in the backyard, and host a county fair.

In addition to being able to occupy themselves, kids with active imaginations tend to be great problem solvers. They view the world through a different lens and have the ability to look at problems from multiple angles. Not only does a healthy imagination foster creative thinking, but kids who regularly engage in imaginative play tend to have better coping skills and social interaction skills, and they have an appetite for learning. When children are encouraged to tap into their imaginations, they learn to work through the twists and turns of childhood on their own terms.

Believe it or not, that period of time just before bedtime can be ideal for working on building a child’s imagination. When kids begin to wind down for the night, their minds are open to engaging in imaginative thinking; try these strategies to get them going:

1. Tell stories to your children. Sure, you probably read to your child each night, but did you know that telling stories actually helps fuel the imagination? Storytelling provides that crucial one-to-one connection with your child that helps build the parent-child bond while imparting wisdom through the story. Kids love hearing their parents tell stories — both true stories from their childhoods and fictional stories made up on the spot. I tell my daughter a relaxing story before bed each night. While she prepares for sleep, I take her on an adventure through a candy forest or fairy village. The best part of storytelling is that you don’t need any props at all. You simply need to snuggle up and start talking.

2. Have them make up stories from mystery objects. Kids love to hear stories, but they also love to make them up. A fun way to inspire storytelling is to send your kid on a walk through the house with a goal of placing three interesting objects into a brown paper bag. When their bags are full, ask them to craft a story using all three objects. You’ll be surprised to find that kids can come up with some fascinating tales involving a light bulb, a lemon, and a pen. Be prepared to play a few rounds of this one… kids love it!

3. Create art from recyclables. So much of childhood is scripted these days, even the art projects. Craft kits line the shelves of stores. While these kits can be fun at times, they tend to stunt the imagination. I like to keep a box of recyclables upstairs for some evening art inspiration. Empty toilet paper and paper towel rolls, old magazines for cutting and pasting, and even cereal boxes make for great art supplies. Kids can make puppets, animals, and any other number of creative things using supplies found around the house. The best part is that recycled art is 100 percent fueled by the imagination. With no directions to follow and no one telling them how the project “should” look, kids can dig in and come up with their own works of art.

4. Take an adventurous walk to bed. Many kids drag their heels when they know it’s time to head to bed, but changing the routine to include a walk through the imagination makes bedtime fun. For example, throw the sofa cushions on the floor to create a bridge to cross over a crocodile-filled river and then ask your kids to make the next move. Take turns adding obstacles to the walk as you make your way to the bedroom, solving problems as you go. An active imagination helps kids thrive both in the home and out in the world. By making time to encourage imaginative thinking, you’ll set your child up for a lifetime of excellent problem solving skills and innovative thinking.

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Photo: Getty