How to stimulate your child’s imagination

Your child’s imagination and creativity are his most underestimated skills. Here’s how reading can help stimulate these important gifts.


Sir Ken Robinson is an expert in learning and children’s education; his talk “Do schools kill creativity?” is the most-watched TED Talk of all time.

His starting point is that “imagination is the source of all human achievement” and the truth in that statement puts his concern regarding role learning, memorisation and regurgitation on tests in context.

The importance of imagination and creativity for your child

Imagination and creativity are not only essential for groundbreaking discoveries. Both are required to solve even simple problems and are also prerequisites for empathy. These are vital, basic skills.

So what can we as parents do to help nurture our children’s natural curiosity and love of creative expression?

Our children are entering a digital world. They will need to be able to navigate it, so the discussion has moved on from banning all screens, as this could, in fact, compromise your child. There are many age- appropriate learning programmes and interactive apps available that can be beneficial for them.

ALSO SEE: 4 educational apps for kids

Scientists don’t yet know what the effects of screen time will have on the brain, so most of the recommendations are around time limits. Most doctors advise against any TV before the age of two and no more than an hour a day after that.

Why? Compare the passive stare of a toddler in front of a television to a child engaged in a story being read to them by one of their parents, or deeply involved in imaginative play. There are very different levels of imaginative interaction.

ALSO SEE: Too much screen time can affect early childhood development

The benefits of reading to your child

Envisioning the world painted in words in books, or making up worlds while building with blocks or art supplies, flexes imagination and exercises creativity.

When it comes to reading, the cognitive and developmental advantages (the foundations for language development, reasoning, reading and learning) make it clear that reading to your children is imperative to developing their full potential.

And where screen time is a solitary experience, reading to and playing with your children are incredibly bonding.

ALSO SEE: 5 reasons why you should read to your child

When should you start reading to your child?

Studies show that children who were read to from birth have a larger vocabulary and better math abilities. Another study at Brown University in the US found that 18 to 25-month-olds who’d been read to for a year could say and understand more words than their peers who hadn’t been read to.

What should I read to my child?

  • Newborns can’t understand what you’re saying, so it doesn’t matter what you’re reading. It’s the cadence and tone they’re getting used to – so you could read your own book to your baby.
  • Closer to six months, look for books with high-contrast pictures and until your little one is 12 months old, books featuring graphic representations of everyday objects that he will recognise, and you can point to and name, are wonderful.
  • Toddlers will love stories about issues they’re dealing with like going to playschool for the first time. Also look for stories about things they love – yes, even if it’s the Teletubbies.

Children’s books offer a variety of opportunities. You can read the story as it is, talk about the pictures, and imagine sequels. “As they get older, children have a longer attention span and will be able to remember specific parts of stories. And, because of their rich imagination, they probably won’t need to see pictures in books anymore,” says Debbie Mynardt, an expert from Mysmartkid. “Listening to a story without pictures will help to grow your child’s imagination. Talk to your child about the stories you read to him and find out what he thinks. This will help him to understand the key characters and plot.”

Debbie recommends these books for little ones:

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Tips to help stimulate your child’s development

“Don’t forget that imaginative play, musical expression and dancing, like reading, are all great activities that will help stimulate development,” continues Debbie. “The ages of three and four are an exciting time for little ones as their imaginative play reaches its peak. They’ll absolutely love playing with both realistic toys, such as aeroplanes or helicopters, as well as objects they can transform into something else with their imagination. For instance, a shiny shoe could easily become a magical flying car with a little bit of creative thinking. Let your child choose their characters, props and dress-up clothes, as it’s important for them to be in charge of their play time. This is how they explore their responses and reactions to their little world. Their imagination will run wild with basic objects that can be turned into absolutely anything!”

Play along, it’ll be fun. It will also prepare your child for life, and when they’ve grown up and moved on, these times together are the ones you’ll look back on with pride and a lump in your throat.

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