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The Informed Parent

Nurturing Imagination, Part 2

by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Published on Jun. 14, 1999

After reading last month's article, you probably spent some time noticing your own imaginative process. Perhaps you became more aware of how imaginative you are or ways in which you stifle your imagination. Perhaps you watched your children's play differently and noticed when and how they use their imaginations. Through exploring what blocks imagination, perhaps you began to look at how you and your home environment support and sustain imaginative and creative play in your children. Raising happy, healthy children requires providing the time, space and materials for imaginative play. This month I will share a structure for enhancing the imaginative process and some recipes for easy-to-make supplies for imaginative play.

Many children have become accustomed to playing with sophisticated toys that talk, walk and can be programmed to perform various activities. Children are used to the fast pace of computer games and information offered on television. Some children are reluctant to play with art materials or engage in creative play for fear that what they do will "not turn out right". Providing uninterrupted time for imaginative play and keeping a supply of interesting materials usually captures the most reluctant of children.

Enhancing The Imagination

With the materials suggested last month in Part 1 of this article, the recipes given below, some structure and plenty of time, the stage is set for imaginative play. The following suggestions may assist you so that your child's imagination soars and creative play becomes a large part of his or her playtime.

  1. Limit television to no more than two hours each day.
  2. Limit computer use for other than homework to no more than two hours each day.
  3. The above two activities combined are best kept to no more than two-to-three hours each day. Encourage your child to begin limiting this even more.
  4. Have a box or cupboard shelf where most of the play materials are kept. This saves time so materials don't have to be sought out before play.
  5. Set aside several times each week where imaginative play materials are available and consistently foster the use of them. For young children, choose which materials to use at a given time. Let older children choose for themselves.
  6. If children choose play materials that require your time in preparation or for assisting in clean up, only agree if you have the time to patiently assist.
  7. Assist children in learning organization by encouraging them to put away materials from one activity before moving to the next.
  8. Remember that creative and imaginative play is often messy. This is okay!
  9. Often what looks like work to an adult is play to a child; i.e. sorting buttons or beads.
  10. Acknowledge your child for imaginative play and appreciate creative projects. Phrases like, "Wow! that looks like fun." or "Look at that!" said in a positive tone work well.

Sometimes people think that providing a structure for imaginative, creative play inhibits the process. All artists know that without a time, space and organization, little creative work gets accomplished. Assisting your child toward a more creative and imaginative life requires practice. Unless time, materials and the opportunity are present, filling time with television, computer games and toys requiring little imagination for their use becomes easy.

Handy Recipes

Easy-to-make recipes offer children the opportunity to assist in preparing the materials they use for play. Children experience a sense of satisfaction and excitement in seeing ingredients from the kitchen cupboard turning into useful play materials.


Homemade pastes do not work as well as commercial glue and paste; however, they are inexpensive to make and are harmless if young children eat them. Young children like to use lots of paste. By taking a few minutes to make the homemade variety, you are relieved of the urge to nag about wasting the more expensive commercial glue. Homemade paste cleans up easily and quickly.

A handful of flour
Add water (a little at a time) until gooey--it should be quite thick so that it does not
run all over the paper.
Add a pinch of salt--adding a little more salt creates sparkly salt crystals as the paste dries.

1/2 cup flour
Add cold water until mixture is thick as cream.
Simmer and stir on stove for five minutes.
Add a few drops of food color if desired.
Store in refrigerator in an airtight jar when not in use.
Boiled paste sticks better and lasts longer than no-cook paste.

3 egg whites
1/2 tsp. cream of tarter
1lb. confectioners sugar
Add sugar slowly. Beat until smooth.

Clay and play dough save well in the refrigerator when stored in an airtight container or plastic bag. Both harden and can be painted, although when dried they are quite brittle.

1 cup flour
1 cup salt
Enough water to make a very stiff dough.
Few drops food coloring, if desired.
Mix flour and salt. Add water slowly, kneading to make a smooth dough.

1 cup salt
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons cooking oil.
Few drops food coloring, if desired.
Mix flour and salt. Add water slowly and knead to make smooth dough.
Add oil and food coloring.

Mix together:
3 cups flour
1 1/2 cups salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
3 cups water
3 tablespoons oil
Food coloring, if desired
Cook over low heat (an electric skillet is good). Stir until mixture is thick
like mashed potatoes. Turn out of pan onto foil and allow to cool.

Homemade paints are easy to make and don't stain the way many commercial varieties do.
Paints are messy, so make sure you have time to patiently help your young child clean up
after a painting activity.

Mix equal parts flour and salt.
Add enough water to make the mixture the consistency of thick gravy.
Add few drops of food coloring.

Mix a few drops of food coloring into nonmentholated shaving cream.

Add a few drips of food coloring to liquid starch.

Soap bubbles make a fun warm-weather activity. They float nicely in the air when
flicked from a wand (save wands from Easter egg dye packets) or make lovely "mountains of bubbles" when a child blows through a straw into a bowl of solution.
1 cup water
2 teaspoons liquid soap
1 tablespoon cooking oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar

Providing the opportunity for creative and imaginative play requires a little more time on the part of parents. That extra time pays off when our children show greater sustained enthusiasm and less boredom; when they develop the capability to see more options in various situations and when they look forward to the process of activities as well as any desired outcomes.

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