Back by Popular Demand...


kids playing

In the summers, part of my job is to be a leader for groups of kids at science camp.  The days are jam-packed with activities, all the while we practice being scientists: observing, wondering, sharing and testing ideas, and every once in a while blowing something up!

We are at the playground when I notice one of my campers crossing the bridge using the side railings instead of walking across the planks on the bottom.  A line forms as others copy the maneuvering and I decide to offer up a game. “The floor is lava, and we forgot our lava-proof boots today,” I say.

One girl shoots back, “No, it’s not!  It’s not lava!”

Another girl, who is mostly across the lava bridge, looks back and offers, “Yes it is, you just have to use your imagination! Can you see it?”

I can’t help but beam a smile at her.  

Looking back at my summer 2018 experiences, I am reminded that in this world where parents feel pressured to overschedule and surround kids with high tech toys, that a child who is rich in imagination and has some unstructured playtime is doing just fine.  And even better…imagination is unlimited and FREE!

Now I can’t say for sure that my doubting friend isn’t simply expressing that she is firmly rooted in what Piaget would call the Concrete Operational stage of cognitive development (completely on target for those between the ages of seven and eleven years old) where logical thought is emerging but limited, and abstract thought is still challenging. But it’s possible that some kids, and certainly many adults, are out of practice when it comes to imagining.

So how can we encourage imagination?

Five Things you Can Do to Spark your Kid’s Imagination

  1. Tell stories. Make them up together as you go!
  2. Encourage youngsters to draw or create when they are excited about something.  Materials in the recycling bin are perfect for this!
  3. Make time in your child’s day for free play at home and in nature.
  4. Role play, and encourage switching roles to consider different viewpoints.
  5. Ask questions to encourage deeper exploration; Where does this animal/person live? What could we do next? What tools do we need?
cardboard robot

Here are more ideas for fueling imagination. And remember to resist the urge to rescue kids when they’re stuck on a task. Assist them versus doing it for them!

 I’m always pleased when kids catch me imagining, ask me to explain what I’m playing (or drawing or making…), and then join in.  Because my acting skills, I assure you, are not that great, but in these moments I am modeling that adults use imagination too! Imagination lays the groundwork for scientific thinking and problem solving and cultivates skills that kids need to be successful in their futures.  

It may seem silly that we even need to mention these things, but when the AAP feels compelled to recommend doctors prescribe play to keep kids on track for healthy development, perhaps we should take note!

For me, I’m happy to report that playground time ended with stomping around in our imaginary anti-gravity-heat-shielded-lava boots (mine were also purple and sparkly)!

I can hardly wait to see how today’s imaginings will shape tomorrow’s inventions!


Melissa Rummel

Melissa Rummel

Melissa is a dedicated Hopper Volunteer, science educator, professional development provider, and curriculum developer who works both at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science and at the UCAR Mesa Lab in Boulder.

Close Menu