Our children are surrounded by entertainment: tablets, smartphones, gaming systems, Netflix. The option to streaming anything at any time is at their fingertips. How can we, their teachers, compete? How can we keep them excited about learning?

There is one solution, and it’s free: stir up their imagination.

We know instinctively that imagination is vital to the development of all children. It helps them express themselves in words, actions, play, art, music, dance. It helps them interact with the world around them in different ways. It aids in the process of making sense of the things they feel and see.

And it’s just so stinking fun.

So how does a parent pull their child away from the iPhone or Xbox, and get them to invent a board game? How does the imagination trump games, and lead to an amazing hour of dancing in the living room?

Before we get into 3 ways to stir up their imagination, I want you to know there is hope. It can be done. Your son or daughter will put down the phone and the controller. They will join in and start creating things.

It just takes a little time and a little effort.

1) Make it Messy.
Some of us homeschool to break away from too much structure, to avoid boredom. Yet, we can often slip into the structure because of our jobs or the way we have lived for so long.

Get radical. Throw all of the structure out the window for the day. Get messy with the lesson. Get messy with the activity. Depending on your child and what they like to do, this will vary. Messy can mean cleaning off a table, putting down a sheet, slopping some kinetic sand on it, and letting them mold whatever idea is in their mind.

A huge part of messy is getting rid of, “no.” Practice the power of “yes, and.” Improv troupes around the country use “yes, and” to create amazing, instance stories out of messy ideas. And they bring the audience to tears in laughter doing it. Saying “no” when creating shuts down parts of the brain and inhibit imagination. So say “yes, and” when you child makes a lump of sand and says it’s a dinosaur.

2) Make it personal.
Video games, Hulu, even texting can be very impersonal. And detached. Our children spend a lot of time in their heads, not interacting with others. To jumpstart their imagination, make it personal.

While they are eating lunch, tell them a story from your childhood. Pick a funny story. It doesn’t have to be long. Just make it something perusal and then let them ask questions. Let them investigate your life story with their imagination. As they ask questions, they are putting themselves into your story. They are seeing life from a different perspective. They are creating their own endings by asking the questions they ask.

When you’re done, have them write out a story based on what you told them. Or have them build the scene you described with Legos or toys. Anything to get them connected to you and using their imagination to build on what you were saying.

3) Make it structured (sort of).
This might seem oxymoronic, but you can structure the mess, especially if you have an introverted child who might be timid, and not sure where to start. Blank pages or empty canvases can scare the mightiest adult. Imagine what it does to a child. The days of saying just make it up are over. So much of the entertainment is given to them—they don’t have to do anything but navigate the avatar or answer a question.

Adding structure can look like this: give them play dough and tell them the goal is to create a race of aliens who want to take over the kitchen, and cook alien food for them. Guide them in creating the aliens and the space food that will be cooked.

Guidelines can be powerful in unleashing the imagination because limits force us to come up with answers we would never have seen before.

There you have it. Three ways to stir the imagination. Now, go, make it messy, make it personal, and make it structured—they will love it.

Christopher Dalton

Author Christopher Dalton

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