5 ways to channel a child’s vivid imagination into creative pursuits

My husband and I have been struggling with an ongoing parenting challenge. We want our sons to dream big, but we also want to find ways to channel their creativity into pursuits that allow them to better themselves and potentially the world - as students, people and world citizens.

You see, our sons, like most kids, have huge, vivid imaginations.

They think it’s entirely possible to build an Ironman suit and use it to fly across the country - but be back to school before lunch is over.

They think an owl will be here soon with a message that they really are “wizards” - and not “muggles.”

They think Target stocks all of the necessary ingredients needed to make real magic potions.

And, they think they can get bionic arms to help them throw farther and faster – and juggle.

I love their ability to imagine that anything is possible – and their infallible desire to make it a reality. I just wish all of their dreams really could come true. And, maybe they can – in slightly different ways.

As most people know by now, JK Rowling came up with the idea for the Harry Potter series when she was on a delayed train from Manchester to London in 1990. At the time, she was a researcher and bilingual secretary for Amnesty International, but she is said to have been living in "relative poverty" when she completed the first book. With the sheer power of her words, JK Rowling has helped children across the world dream big – even if they are just "muggles." I recently read a quote from the author that really rung true to me:

JK Rowling Magic Quote

Isn’t that so true?

All of us have the power to imagine better. We can make the world better all in our own creative ways. Whether it’s coming up with new inventions, new cures, new ways to unite people, new solutions to problems, or new ways to entertain us - our imaginations knows no bounds.

Today, more than 400 millions copies of JK Rowling's Harry Potter books have been sold, and it has become are the best-selling book series in history. And, the books have addressed "the larger themes of fascism, democracy and diversity" - in digestible and appropriate ways for young adults. In fact, a recent Washington Post article noted that Harry Potter books are the perfect way to explain Labor Day to kids because they address the "struggle for the rights of house-elves, who play an enormous role in the functioning of the wizarding world even as they reap almost none of the rewards of the magical economy."

Now that our sons are older, my husband and I are trying to lay a foundation that will help them thrive and grow as young children, young students, and young people. And, who knows? Maybe their efforts will help change the world, improve their communities, or entertain us all – one day soon or in the near future.

The wonderful thing is that the possibilities are endless. We, as parents, just need to help guide and channel our children's interests and imagination, and then let it – and them – run their course.

Here are 5 ways to channel a child’s vivid imagination into creative pursuits:

1. Share stories of authors, activists, inventors and others who’ve used their creativity and imaginations to entertain people and make the world a better place. Sometimes another person’s example can show us that anything is possible – and we can achieve similar feats, too.

There are so many real-life, real-world examples of people who have used their imaginations and creativity to change or better the world. They range from Theodor Seuss Geisel (otherwise known as Dr. Seuss), who spent the early part of his career drawing advertisements for a variety of companies before writing and illustrating his first children's book in 1936, to Steve Jobs, the co-founder, Chairman and CEO of Apple, who "pioneered the personal computer revolution."

But, it’s not just famous people. My sons are in awe of the architects who made it possible to build Chicago’s own Willis Tower – one of the tallest building in the world. And, recently, they’ve recently become enamored with the contestants who appear on the reality TV show, Shark Tank, and present their business or product to a panel of potential investors, referred to as "sharks."

You can “introduce” your child to some of the most influential people of our days via biographies. The "Who Was?…" series of books offer kid-friendly biographies on notable individuals like Walt Disney, Jane Goodall, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Marie Curie, and the Wright brothers.

You also can point out the “everyday” people in your lives who do amazing things infused with creativity – like doctors, chefs, artists, architects, web designers, and so many others.

Another option is through kid-appropriate reality TV shows that feature real people taking on new and different challenges. In addition to their new interest in Shark Tank, my sons also like to watch MasterChef Junior, a cooking competition that features “home cooks” between the ages of 8 and 13, and America’s Got Talent, a talent competition with many young contestants.

2. Encourage your child to journal on a daily basis to record his or her thoughts, ideas and aspirations. You never know - today’s thoughts can be tomorrow’s big ideas, or our scribbled questions can meld together to solve a persistent problem.

My older son and a few of his friends have formed a new “company” that is focused on building the next “Ironman suit.” Each day, during lunch and at recess, they gather around to share ideas of how to make it all work, and talk about the tools or resources required to get it all done. But, day after day, they find themselves never coming up with that big idea – or figuring out where to buy their much-desired plasma in Chicago.

Given his continued interest in this one particular “project,” my husband and I have started to encourage our son to detail his “Ironman suit” and “company” growth plans in a journal. Our key selling point to him is that it will help prevent him from forgetting any of his ideas. And, it can help him crystallize his thoughts to help him come up with the a helpful solution.

By doing all of this, we hope to build his passion and allow him to further explore the creative process, while also further building his own writing, editing and ideation skills.

In an article on the 6 benefit of journal writing for kids, Primary Education Oasis notes that daily writing in a relaxed format can provide a non-threatening way for kids to explore different thoughts, ideas and topics without being concerned about audience presentation.

A fellow blogger recently mentioned KidBlog, a platform that allows kids to blog in a safe, more secure format than the big, wide-open web. The platform can enable kids to record their daily thoughts (like an online journal) and also find their writing “voice.” It's definitely something I'm going to look into for my sons.

3. Enroll your child in a program or class that allows him/her to unleash their creativity. Creativity lives within all of us. Sometimes we just need someone to help pull it out of us – or mold it into an even better, stronger creation.

Since our older son has started journaling, he’s also begun to write his own bit of “science fiction.” His latest story stars two brothers and their group of friends who are out to change the world. It’s still in the early stages, but I tend to think an "Ironman suit" will be written into the script very soon.

As a result of this new pursuit, we’ve started talking about the writing and editing process, including how to outline a story and build out the main characters. We’ve tried to imagine how JK Rowling or Rick Riordan (the author of the Percy Jackson books our son is reading now) would have approached their stories. And, we’ve hoped our son can and will want to apply some of the ideas to his own story.

To help fuel his current writing fervor and introduce him to other authors, we recently signed our older son up for a screenwriting class at Facets, an organization dedicated to "transforming lives through the power of world, classic, and independent film." The class will be taught by a screenwriter who has taught classes at Northwestern University and worked on the writing and production of an Amazon TV series.

Previously, we enrolled both of our sons in an animation class at Facets to help show them how they can bring their own imaginative story ideas to life – just like the cartoons they like to watch on TV or in the movie theaters.

My younger son is currently enrolled in an improv class at Chicago’s esteemed Second City. We’re hoping the class will further build his quick wit, while also helping to build his self confidence.

Other options to build and channel a child's imagination can be classes that focus on science for young scientists, drama for budding actors, art for young artists, or writing for would-be authors. Depending on where you live, you may be able to find similar classes offered at a local library, community center, park district, theater, museum, or cultural center.

4. Find ways to deepen their exposure to the topic of most interest to them. I feel fortunate that our family lives in city with a wide variety of amazing cultural, scientific and educational institutions we can visit on a regular basis.

Since our sons have been old enough to “voice” their interest in the things that make up their worlds, we’ve taken them to visit local institutions that feed their hunger to learn and know more, while also showing them what people have done and can do when they’re interested in that same thing.

When our older son was obsessed with the trains that ran along the track at the end of our street, we took him to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill. to see the trains and meet engineers and conducts. When our younger son was wild about animals, we took him to the Lincoln Park Zoo to see the animals and hear more about them from zoologists and caretakers. And, when our older son wanted to know everything about space, we made a special trip to the Kennedy Space Center while visiting family in Florida to see the space shuttles and hear from scientists and astronauts.

Now that they’re older, we can channel that interest in the same way, but add an additional layer. Yes, these days, we try to not only visit an institution, but also seek out ways for them to participate in available art or writing programs as well.

For example, thanks to our older son’s interest in all of the materials needed to make an “Ironman suit,” he’s been asking a lot of questions about particle accelerators. Lucky for us, we live about an hour away from Fermilab, "America's premier particle physics laboratory," which also is home to a particle accelerator. Next month, my husband and I plan to venture out there with our sons so we can participate in their Family Open House – and view their particle accelerator. While there, I plan to have my sons bring their journals so they can take notes about what they learn – and any new ideas that may come to them as they tour Fermilab’s facility.

But, you don’t just have to go to big institutions or facilities. You also can visit a library or go online to dig deeper into books on the topic of most interest to them.

And, yes, TV and movies can help kids learn more about a topic in a fun, easy, kid-friendly way. Our sons used to love watching the “The Big...” movies from Little Mammoth Media, with titles such as "The Big Space Shuttle," "The Big Renovation," "The Big Newspaper," "The Big Hotel," and many more. Just recently, I learned of a new TV series called the "Moochie Kalala Detectives Club," which seeks to "discover the truth behind Grandpa’s crazy stories."  The episodes feature kids going on "missions" to Chicago museums "to meet with real scientists and gather the facts."

Following each activity, viewing or visit, I’d suggest having your child write down their thoughts and questions in a journal, glue in mementos or photos, and/or draw pictures of their experiences so they can look back at it for inspiration at a later time. They also can turn their photos, mementos and notes into a scrapbook (hardcopy or virtual), which also could turn into a storyboard for future creative adventures.

5. Form a club with friends of similar creative interests. The best ideas can come from “what if” discussions shared among friends.

These days, my sons have been interested in forming “companies” with friends who are interested in the same things – spying, science, ninjas and more. Together, they devise their own plans to solve a problem or just create a game to play together.

Personally, I love that even at a young age they’re seeking out like-minded individuals who share similar passions, and they want to get together to “brainstorm” ideas with them.

But, these recess-time conversations don’t just need to stay on the playground. You can invite the friends over for a “science” or other themed playdate, and then encourage the kids to explore a certain topic or problem. Or, you can look for local facilities that hold themed-playdates, and then bring your child there to explore it some more – in the company of new or old friends.

The possibilities are endless when a child is passionate about a topic and interested in connecting and collaborating with others who share a similar drive and goal.

What are some of your child’s biggest dreams? How have you channeled their creativity and passion? Please share your experiences, thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Creative Pursuits

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