Encouraging Fantasy and Creativity

All ages

Enjoy the arts with your kids, as well as encouraging them to have fun on their own. Enjoy both actively and passively: that is, singing or playing music as well as listening; enjoying the visual arts, and drawing, painting, playing with clay yourselves. Read stories and make them up. Have fun experimenting with materials; books with art activities for preschoolers have lots of good ideas. Make bath time fun with soap "crayons" that wash off the tub surround; fingerpaint with pudding mix; drum with wooden spoons on pots and pans.

Think carefully before offering formal lessons. Some kids will want to enjoy themselves without being told what to do, while others might enjoy lessons as a way to learn new techniques.

Role-playing can help your child find the courage to do something scary or develop a new skill. For example, it's a thrill for a 4- or 5-year-old to be entrusted with the responsibility of answering the phone. Practice with a script:

PARENT: Ring! Ring! CHILD: Hello. Who's calling please? PARENT: Is Ms. Matsumura there? CHILD: I'll see. Can I ask who's calling?

Take inspiration from silly fantasies in children's stories. For example, in The Wonderful O, James Thurber imagines the consequences when a king bans the use of the letter "O"—among other things, Ophelia Oliver doesn't want to say her name any more! What would happen if we dropped the letter "A"? If rivers ran backwards? If people could walk on the ceiling like flies (especially if they were trying to wear hats)?

Differentiating fantasy from reality is a common concern of humanist parents. Remember that serious imagining can be the first step to a marvelous goal. You can talk with your child about the difference between pretend ways to make something happen and real ways to make it happen. There are many stories of people flying by flapping their arms or tying on imitation bird wings. Then there are the stories of experiments that led to the invention of airplanes and even human-powered flight (the original "Gossamer Condor" is on display at the Smithsonian Institution, and there are books and DVDs about it.)

Listen to your kids' fantasies as a way of learning about their feelings. For example, while having an imaginary friend may just be a fun game, it may mean your child wants more chances to play with other kids.

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