Protect the Wonder: 5 Imagination Boosters for Kids

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Hands-on dad talks imagination

An active imagination is not a distraction, but a resource. Don’t squash your child’s imagination. Not sure where to begin? Resident Hands-On Dad offers ideas for imagination opportunities that will help your child harness their wonder.

Avoid Squashing Your Child’s Imagination: Five Imagination Opportunities

“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” ― Albert Einstein

Your child doesn’t have to be Einstein, but if the next generation doesn’t use their imagination, the future will (at best) be pretty boring or (at worst) horribly catastrophic. The future of humanity will likely have many significant challenges and it will require imagination to solve them.

So how do you give your child an imagination? Just give birth! That was easy (for dad at least). Once you’re done patting yourself on the back for doing such a great job giving your child their imagination, we can move on to the hard part: not squashing it.

No sensible parent or teacher sets out with the goal of squashing the imagination of children, but that is what can easily happen in the normal course of growing up.

Appropriately, teachers focus on teaching children the foundation for all future learning, which is reading, writing, and math. However, learning these basics leave little room for imagination. Before everyone yells at me, I agree that these subjects can be great tools to develop new ideas, but learning how to use these tools correctly allows for little flexibility. Each letter in the alphabet makes several specific sounds (depending on the context), each upper and lower case letter must be written in the specified form, and addition and subtraction must follow the strict rules of math. It might be fun to imagine “a” makes the sound “eff”, to write “t” as an “e”, and to decide 2+2=5, but this will severely limit the potential benefit of imagination because your child won’t be able to effectively communicate their awesome ideas.

Also, parents do their best to keep their children tethered to reality. We tell them what to do and when to do it, because our sweet children can be whirlwinds of destruction and, thus, require guidance. We try to expose them to new experiences by signing them up for organized activities like sports, boy scouts, or the spelling bee, which is great (in moderation), but all this structure can stifle your child’s imagination.

Children need teachers to teach and parents to parent, but all that reality being shoved into your child’s brain needs to be balanced with imagination opportunities (imagi-tunities?)

Five Fun Imagination Opportunities

Make up a story together

Every night, after the lights go out, I lie in bed with my son for about 10 minutes and we tell a story together. He will start by giving some characters and a setting, like a knight who lives in a castle by a spooky forest. Then I will start telling a story until I say “your turn” and he takes over. He reserves the right to jump in early and take over the story early if he chooses. This goes back and forth until I say “your turn to finish the story.” Sometimes he gets excited and wants to keep going, so we have to end the story with “to be continued.”

Genius Hour

Yeah, it’s a thing; Google it (they actually kind of started it). The basic idea is to set aside time for your child to work on a passion project. This could be an hour a day or an hour a week depending on what makes sense for your schedule. To be clear, a passion project is not trying to beat the Ender Dragon in Survival Mode. Project ideas cover a broad range and are dependent of the age and skill level of your child. Have your child come up with several ideas and then pick one that is achievable. If your 5-year old wants to build a real working robot, you may suggest having him build one out of cardboard and duct tape instead. The idea is that the project should be something your child cares about, will take more than a little time to complete, and will be completed with little or no help from you (beyond providing materials).

Give them an old camera

I stumbled upon this one in a bout of lazy parenting. My son got in the habit of waiting until I sat down to eat and then asking (ever so sweetly) if we had a picture of grapes, chicken, or whatever happened to be on his plate. Then I would go find my phone and take a picture. After several days of this, I’d had enough. I dug through the “junk drawer” and found an old smart phone with a camera. I deleted everything that I could and handed it over. I expected the phone to be broken or lost and have to give the “so what did we learn” speech, but instead he took the camera and ran with it (literally). He actually made some cool movies!

Crayons and a blank canvas

Coloring books are great for building fine motor skills, but they leave little to the imagination. Give your child the freedom to fail. Let them draw something unrecognizable. It doesn’t have to be great; it just has to be theirs. If your child needs an imagination kick start, you can give them a “doodle book” (it’s basically a coloring book, but each page only gives part of the scene and it is up to the child to complete it).

Legos (Master Builder Style)

Legos can be great for stretching your child’s imagination. This is best achieved by just having a bin of assorted Legos and not providing any direction. You can use this free time to go put out the fire that started in the kitchen while you were pulling out the Legos. To ensure Legos are a good imagination opportunity, be sure to hide the instructions. Also, try to avoid themed Lego sets because this hinders your child’s imagination by supplementing an existing narrative. I’ll admit, I have not always done well following the last recommendation (I love Benny’s Spaceship; Spaceship!).


I am happily married and have two boys. I am an engineer by trade. My passions are science, football, comedy, and spending time with my family. I am very excited about having a vehicle to tell people some fun and educational activities that you can do with your kids. It can be hard work sometimes, but seeing that look of wonder your in child's eyes makes it all worth it. Go outside! Get dirty! Imagine, create, try, fail, and try again! Be tenacious! This is your only life, so go live it!

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