Why is it important to encourage imagination?
The first few years of your child’s life are extremely important. All the things you and your toddler do together, from reading, singing, and playing to eating and walking, help to jump-start his brain.
Involving your toddler in stimulating activities helps to create connections in his brain. Through repetition, these connections build into networks in his brain that allow him to think and learn.
This is an important time in your toddler’s mental development because his brain is much denser than it will be when he’s older. A connection that’s used repeatedly becomes permanent, while connections that are hardly used may not survive.
As you expose your toddler to new experiences, you open his mind to a bigger, more exciting world. By encouraging him to use his imagination (“Look, Mummy’s a tiger in the jungle!”), you spark his brain to forge “imagination pathways” of its own.
How can I help my toddler develop his imagination?
You can help to spark your toddler’s fantasy life by reading picture books about unfamiliar people and places together. While your toddler’s naturally imaginative, these will help to broaden his vocabulary of words and images, too. (How can you imagine being a turtle if you’ve never seen one?)
Choose books with lots of big, colourful pictures. You can make up anything you want before your toddler learns to read and insists on sticking strictly to the text.
What his brain wants now is input. Show your toddler pictures of everything from beetles to dinosaurs.
Make sounds for animals and vehicles, too. Use special voices for the different characters and talk about what happened or might happen to the characters. Try to limit TV and DVDs, which create ready-made imaginary worlds for him. Instead, allow your toddler’s mind more scope to create pictures on its own.
Can I make up stories for my toddler?
Hearing you tell your own made-up stories is just as good, and maybe even better, for your toddler. As well as giving lots of scope for his imagination, they’ll demonstrate how to create characters and plots. And using your child as the main character is a great way to expand his sense of himself.
Soon enough, your toddler will start coming up with his own stories and adventures. He may start by copying you at first because that’s how children learn. As his imagination develops, the inventiveness of his scenarios will astound you.
What can I do next to encourage my toddler’s imagination?
Part of developing an imagination is learning to share it. And the best way to help your toddler move to this next step is by being a good listener. Toddlers’ verbal skills aren’t great, of course, but they get better with practise.
Try trading off lines of a story. So while you’re driving, say, “Once upon a time there was a dog. He lived with a little boy named Tom and one day …” Then give your toddler a turn. If he’s not up to a whole line, he can still join in. Ask him to name the little boy’s dog.
When your toddler draws a picture, encourage him to tell you what’s going on in it. Instead of saying “What a beautiful house!”, say “What lovely colours! What’s this here?”
Pretending allows your toddler to be anyone he wants to be, to practise what he’s learned, and to make things come out the way he’d like. By listening to him you can stay in tune with what he’s thinking.