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Boost Your Child’s Imagination for Literacy
...and Much More!
Edited by T. Mailoo

What is Imagination?

Childrens Imagination

In this article, we'll tell you how to help your child develop their imagination so they can write interesting stories and succeed in other creative tasks.

However, often overlooked is that imagination is necessary for good decision making and problem solving. In every situation, we use our imagination to assess the outcomes of the possible actions we could take to help us decide what to actually do.

The part of the brain responsible for imagination is located in the frontal lobes which also influences reflection, empathy, play and creativity. The ability to be creative and imaginative allows the brain to make connections between one area of learning and another. Below are of some of the aspects linked to imagination -

Children's Imagination, Imaginative Story Writing

There's More to Imagination Than You Might Think

Children rely on their imagination in many ways, for example -

In play - to create fun games (play is an instinctive and highly effective way we learn)
In Maths - to figure out ways to solve problems
Socially - to decide what to do and say in different situations

A healthy imagination will certainly help your child write better stories and do well in literacy but it's also necessary for success in life.

Imagination and Learning

Childrens Imagination

Thought is closely linked to imagination, so naturally there’s a strong link between imagination and learning.

When we are learning something new we need to form ideas in our minds and it's our imagination that help us do this.

Also 'imaginative learning' can be used to get children enthusiastic about what they are learning. Encourage your child to make their own discoveries (rather than giving them instructions) and by giving them problem solving activities.

The 'Imagination Myth'

Are we born a level of 'imagination talent' we cannot change?
Some people do think so.

We don't. We've found we can help children (working closely with their parents) to develop a strong imagination as well as show them how to make the most of it beyond good story writing.

Ways to Develop Your Child’s Imagination for Literacy (and Life)

Childrens imagination

You can boost your child's imagination by giving them frequent and varied opportunities to use their imagination, starting from the youngest age you can.

These activities will give your child excellent, playful practice to develop their imagination. Choose the activities that suit your child.

Research shows imagination begins with a child's natural instinct to play. Imagination enables children to 'safely play with and explore reality'.

Developing Children's Imagination: Through Reading

Books are exciting and magical things... they can transport you to another place, time and emotion - all from the comfort of your armchair!

Childrens Imagination
Books are powered by the imagination of the writer and the reader.

The best way to encourage your child to enjoy books is to read to them regularly from a young age, take trips to the library and to ensure they have a daily quiet time to read. Please be aware - even if you are not a keen reader yourself, you should still read to your child as the effects are so beneficial to them.

Parents should be aware that their child's ability to write imaginatively is determined by the level and amount of books they read.

Reading will also help your child's vocabulary grow and become more sophisticated. This will enable them to express their imagination more vividly when speaking or writing.

Developing Children's Imagination: Play Our 'Story Recipe Game'

This is a simple, fun game we created which, if played regularly, will help your child's imagination improve for better story writing. It's a verbal game - there's no need for a pen, paper or to sit at a desk. You can play it anywhere, for example, whilst walking to school or while in the car.

To play, give your child a short list of interesting words, for example "a wizard, a prince and an invisible cloak" - these are the 'story ingredients'.

Then, ask them to think up a short story plan using the words you gave them. Remind them that a basic plan for a story would include -

  • Characters (it's often helpful to have 'goodies' and 'badies'),
  • Something terrible happens - the 'baddies' look like they they will succeed,
  • Finally, against the odds, one of the characters (the 'hero') saves the day.

(Next time you watch a film with your child, try and put the story into these categories.)

Start simply, being encouraging rather than critical.

Take turns being the one thinking up the 'story ingredients' and persevere if you or your child find it difficult to start with - you'll both improve with practice!

Here are some additional ideas to get the most from the game -

  • Give them some help if they get stuck
  • Copying story ideas from books or films is allowed
  • To make good progress, play the game daily
As your child gets better at the game, increase the detail of the story they have to give, such as -
  • Thinking up an exciting title for the story (hint: avoid boring, obvious titles)
    For inspiration, to see the titles of Amazon's top selling children's books.
  • Make up interesting names for the characters
  • Come up with an exciting opening sentence (hint: it needs to make you want to find out more)
  • Giving a vivid description of a character in the story
  • Give more detail to the story, perhaps even writing it up in full

To help get you going, here are some examples -

Story Ingredients

Your child's favourite footballer, your child, the Champion's League Cup Final

Example Story Plan (hint: you don't need to have a 'baddie', you could have a 'disaster' instead) -

Messi, traveling with his teammate, crashes his car on the way to the Champion's League Cup Final at Wembley Stadium outside your house.

His teammate is injured and must go to hospital so he cannot play in the game. Also all the reserve players have had food poisoning and are unable to play.

Your child (a talented player himself) is asked by Messi if they can play for Barcelona in the final.

Your child plays the game of his life and even helps Messi score the winning goal in the final seconds of the game!


Opportunities to describe your child's feelings of surprise, anticipation, pride, excitement and elation. Opportunities to describe the atmosphere of the match (noise, color, tension).

Story Ingredients

Your child's pet, your child, going on holiday, some robbers

Example Story Plan -

Everyone's excited about going on holiday to Spain.
Unknown to anyone, there are some robbers waiting to break into your house when you're away.
Your parents have arranged for your neighbour to look after your pet. Your pet is annoyed that they will be stuck at home being bored.

After everyone's left for Spain, the robbers break in to your house and your pet has to think of a way to stop them. You pet's plan works and they become a hero when the police catch the robbers.

Your family return home, however, and no one apart from your pet is aware of their adventure.


Could tell the story from the dog's point of view. Opportunity to emphasise 'dog thoughts' such as a powerful sense of smell. Feeling of sadness, loneliness, surprise, worry, bravery and pride.

Developing Children's Imagination: Play Parlour Games

You might think games like 'Charades' are old fashioned, but they are great for developing children's imagination and having lots of fun at the same time!

Developing Children's Imagination: Reading Aloud With Expression

By reading stories to your child you'll be fueling their imagination. Choose books your child will like, books on magic and adventure are a good place to start for younger children.

Don't worry if you're a little rusty reading out loud, you'll improve each time you read. Exaggerate the expression in your voice to make it more exciting for your child.

Encourage your child to read aloud with expression from a story they enjoy for a few minutes each day. Children often read aloud too fast, thinking that faster is better, so remind your child if they read slower they'll make fewer mistakes and it will be much more enjoyable for you to listen to.

Developing Children's Imagination: Dressing up and Role Play

Young children love to dress up and play pretend games. Try and give them lots of props to use to inspire their imaginative play.

Developing Children's Imagination: Making a Den From Sheets and Chairs

Young children love to build things, the bigger the better!

You might have to say good-bye to a tidy room for a while, but they'll have lots of fun and improve their imagination.

Developing Children's Imagination: Playing Shops

You'll need to buy a toy shopping register and some pretend money, and 'borrow' stock from your kitchen. Having been taken around the shops by their parents, children love to play the roles they've seen so often. Young children can also learn numeracy skills too.

Developing Children's Imagination: Try Something New

Expose you child to new things. New experiences will go into your child's memory and then will be used as the inspiration for imagination in the future.

Developing Children's Imagination: Explore Creativity

Explore the creative process used for any of their favourite books, films, music, fashion, design and even YouTube video clips. For children's films for example, there might be a director's commentary about the film included on the DVD.

Developing Children's Imagination: Visit a Children's Theatre

Childrens Imagination

Visiting a children's theatre and watching a play can be a rewarding and memorable experience. Children's theatre is often on a smaller scale, so children can see the expressions on the actor's faces and really get involved in the story.

The Unicorn Theatre in London is one of our favourites.

Developing Children's Imagination: Involve Your Child in Decision Making

We all need practice to get better at things, and decision making and problem solving are no exception.

When there are decisions to be made, ask for your child's thoughts and discuss their ideas.

Initially, many children will shrug their shoulders and have no opinion to express. In that case take the time to help them better understand the situation, and remind them to use their imagination in helping them to decide what to do.

After enough practice, your child will come up with points well worth considering, but more importantly, you'll be helping them make better life decisions when they get older.

Examples of decisions you could involve your child are where to go on holiday, and what shopping you need.

Developing Children's Imagination: Encourage Your Child's Curiosity

Your child's curiosity is strongly linked to their imagination.

The time you invest answering your child's questions fully, will be help their understanding and imagination flourish.

Developing Children's Imagination: Have Regular Art Sessions at Home

Childrens imagination
Through art your child can explore their creativity through colour, texture and different processes such as stamping and rolling.

"365 Things to Make and Do by Fiona Watt (Usborne Activities)" is an excellent book with lots of varied ideas that both boys and girls enjoy doing.

Childrens imagination

Put their artwork in a prominent place they will see daily (not just their bedroom) – you’ll be giving them a strong message that you really value their creativity. Remind them what you like about it regularly.

Encourage you child to go beyond the examples shown and create their own art. Also why not ask them to make Birthday cards instead of buying them.

Developing Children's Imagination: Think About the Future and Ambitions

Ask your child what they would like to do when they grow up.

Explore what they say further, for example, for future footballers find a children's football book suitable for their age, for some ideas.

Developing Children's Imagination: Create a Heathly Environment for Imagination

Don’t forget to have fun! Creating a happy atmosphere and friendly environment will help encourage imagination, whereas an exclusively strict atmosphere can stifle imagination.

If you feel you're stuck in a rut, endlessly scolding your child for our ideas on 'Smart Discipline', click here.

An environment where children often laugh, will encourage imaginative play and thought.

Developing Children's Imagination: Use Mobile Phones and Cameras to Get Creative

Make use of those expensive mobiles, cameras and video recorders you already have to make a mini film or play. Work on a script together, rope in family, friends, and the pet for actors.

Alternatively, why not have a go helping your child making their own animation! There's lots of help available via YouTube.

If things don't work out first time, don't despair, have another go and learn from any mistakes.

Developing Children's Imagination: Make Something

Makes something that suits your child's hobby. Get a paper and pencil, and start planning.

What things do you need?
Where can you get them from?
How will it work ?

You’ll have lots of problems to overcome using your imagination. Once again, YouTube can be a source of inspiration and help.

Developing Children's Imagination: Problem Solving

Every now and again, problems arise for all children. When this happens discuss a range of ideas to make things better. Doing so will train them to have a healthy approach to problems in later life.

Developing Children's Imagination: Encourage Discussions and Debate

Talking with your child is one of the most valuable things you can do for them. Encourage discussion, even the smallest discussion about what you've been up to that day will have an impact on your child's literacy.

Great ways to stimulate discussion is reading a newspaper together or watching the news on TV.

Developing Children's Imagination: Toys That Build Children's Imagination

Lego is a firm favourite for a toy that encourages imagination.

Other toys include, a child's doctor kit to play 'doctors', a toy tool kit, toy cars, Play Doh, play kitchens, building blocks, toy prams and toy farms and toy trains.

Developing Children's Imagination: Have a Change of Scene

A unchanging environment is a stale one and won't encourage imagination . Take a trip to the park, or even a different park to the one you would normally visit.

Developing Children's Imagination: Computer Games

Ask your child how their favourite computer game might be improved if they worked for the design team. Explain how developing a computer game takes a huge team of creative people and that how good the game is depends on their imaginations.

Developing Children's Imagination: Encourage Your Child To Have A Go

Young children can be much better than adults at having a go. They'll

Developing Children's Imagination: Make Your Own Board Game

Take the time to design and develop your own board game with your child. Copy ideas from your favourite games and add your own ideas. You can use your computer to design the artwork and print on to paper which you can stick onto card. Make up a catchy name for it too.

Have fun playing it, and work out what worked and what did not.

Developing Children's Imagination: Drama Classes

Drama can be very beneficial to some children. With the right teacher it can help a child overcome their shyness and help children become more expressive. Drama is a form of Literacy and can also help develop a child's imagination.

Developing Children's Imagination: Science + Imagination = Discovery + Invention

Childrens imagination

Remind your child that everything around them has been invented by someone who applied imagination to solve a problem.

Discuss what skills make a good inventor such as thinking 'outside the box', creativity, curiosity and determination.

An excellent DVD you can watch with your child is "The Genius Of Britain" (C4).

Developing Children's Imagination: Imagination - the Neglected Life Skill

Take the time to consider how each of these words below is linked to imagination and explain them to your child.

Children's Imagination, Imaginative Story Writing

Make a game of it - can they tell you the meaning of each word or phrase ?

Avoid These Pitfalls

  1. Watching too much TV over a long period can hinder your child's imagination because they become used to being fed excitment without having to think about it. They won't have enough 'imagination practice' to be imaginative when they need to. A smart way to manage TV watching is to allow a certain amount, after they've done an activity such as reading.
  2. All children look forward to school holidays but but a few days into the holidays some get very bored. This shows a lack of imagination from parents and children about the activities they could do. To avoid help your child, plan what they can do in holidays, using our activity list above for ideas.
  3. Don’t rush imagination – as they develop their skill level they will naturally come up with faster ideas.
  4. Imaginative activities should not be seen as a luxury but rather a necessity for all-round development.
  5. Avoid being too critical. If they want to have a purple sky, ask them about it rather that saying it's 'wrong'.
  6. What we buy and do with our children will shape their areas of ability. Encourage young girls to play with Lego and boys to do art.
  7. Can your child tell you what their favourite things are? If they cannot, then help them come to decisions. Ask them every now and again to help them develop a faster imagination.
  8. In a busy household, the activities that develop imagination can get forgotten about. A little planning by parents using our list of activities about can get around this.
  9. Be prepared to sacrifice your tidy house for creativity. Creative activities can be messy, but parents should consider the huge benefit it gives their children.

Phrases to Inspire Your Child's Imagination

Children often find imaginative story writing difficult to do because they have to come up with something quickly. That's where these question will help your child improve their speed to think imaginatively.

Since imagination is linked to decision making, a child with a poor imagination can be indecisive too. A lot of exposure to questions like the ones here gives them the practice they need to become more decisive -

"What do you think about ... ?"
"Pretend that ..., what would happen ?"
"Put yourself in their shoes, what would you do?"
"Can you think of a better way of ... ?"
"I wonder what would happen if ..."
"I wonder how ..."
"What would it be like if ... ?"

Summary: Developing Your Child's Imagination

  • Having a well developed imagination will help your child in Literacy but also in life
  • There is a strong link between imagination and problem solving
  • There are many things you can do to help your child develop a healthy imagination

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