Encouraging imagination in our children during the lockdown – even better if we too can give ourselves permission to be more child-like and to enjoy the challenges of imagining with our children. | Reuters


This may well be in the thoughts of many a parent during the lockdown. The first few days could have been a bit of a novelty, but now, in our third week I suspect there are more fraught moments, kids arguing and parents wondering if this was ever such a good idea to have a family! So what gems of insight can I offer this week?

We are amazingly resilient human beings and it is well known that good mental wealth is about accepting “what is” – and most children can understand that the lockdown is for good reason; to help save lives – a chance to encourage empathy.

The same imagination that helps children develop empathy can be put to good use during the lockdown. A helpful reminder:

Our brains do not actually know the difference between reality and an imagined state. This is one of the major problems in mental ill-health – we worry ourselves into situations and the body responds as if it were ‘true’, causing a stress response where perhaps there wouldn’t really be one. But that’s another story. We can turn this on its head so to speak by encouraging imagination in our children during the lockdown – even better if we too can give ourselves permission to be more childlike and to enjoy the challenges of imagining with our children.

So what is imagination? Dr Murray Hunter outlines eight types of imagination (see link below) and defines it in essence as that which is “not perceived through the senses” it is based on our experiences and memory but has the wonderful ability that “enables us to scrutinize our past and construct hypothetical future scenarios that do not yet but could exist.” He goes on to say, “Imagination extends our experience and thoughts, enabling a personal construction of a worldview that lowers our sense of uncertainty.” These are uncertain times and using our imagination may be a very useful way through this.

For younger children it is well worth engaging in imaginative play, whilst older children will prefer to use their intellectual and strategic imaginations.

There are some good websites that outline the various stages of imagination in children. Scholastic (see below) gives us some nice summaries with helpful parent tips. A brief summary:

From 12 months onwards use specific appropriate toys. They learn a toy car is a car etc. But within 6 months they start to use bricks to build a garage for the car – symbolic play, the bricks represent a garage.

By 2 years old children are developing the ability to tell stories, simple ones but if we listen we can detect “characters; action and setting”.

“Fantastic drama” develops where children can now become a roaring lion, a super hero; but at this age other children may be frightened as the boundary between reality and fantasy is very fragile. A roaring lion may not be taken immediately as ‘play’!

The 3 to 4 years olds appreciate “nurtured play” – they need props, dress up clothes and may at this stage have imaginary friends too. At the later age they begin to differentiate reality from fantasy – watching their friend pretend to be a super hearo flying round the room, they may turn to you and say, “he can’t really fly”.

By 5 and 6 years of age they can produce whole plays and the posters to publicise the event; imaginary ticket sales; a video of it etc. etc. This age range is almost unstoppable in developing their own curriculum around their interests. This age range need collaborative play, so during the lockdown we face an issue if we only have one child of that age – the younger ones don’t want to join in, the older kids are way too sophisticated for this – but do encourage all the family to get involved, to ‘become 5 year olds again’.

By age 7 – the brain can do all sorts of amazing feats. Michelle Anthony suggests discovery is by far the best approach. “Don’t always provide answers, encourage experimentation and welcome the mess”. She has links to online resources that challenge the brain and encourage reluctant readers. Try Line Rider – I did and it and failed miserably but 7 years old’s thrive on the challenge. Use an app like Popplet to brainstorm ideas – maybe get them to suggest the menu for the day/week or ideas for further games to play. They can design family quizzes that are a bit different, with the person who has the most ideas for a ‘possible correct answer’ wins – Anthony suggests using the format “nine is the solution what is the problem?”.

Another great way to encourage the imagination is to look at everyday items such as a broom and get as many ideas for alternative use as possible. Or consider what a pile of snow could be used for, apart from snowball fighting or building a snowman.

We too need to use our imaginations during lockdown and enjoy it! Meditation science shows that we can visualise something and the body will respond ‘as if’. So if all the activity of making things, dancing, playing an imaginary piano have left you exhausted try this:

Discuss as a family one of the ‘best times’ you have had together in the past – a visit to the zoo, the park, the beach…..try to discover the features that made it a good experience.

The whole family lies down on the floor, close your eyes, listen to the natural sounds in the room/outside

Really listen – and wait for that ‘silence’ behind the noise.

Then bring attention to the bodily feeling of lying on the floor, check head, shoulders, back, legs, arms – feel the floor holding you safely. Feel the clothing on the skin, air passing over bare hands or face.

Then move awareness inward to the breath – feel the action of breathing – ribs rising, cool air in nose, tummy moving inwards and outwards. Stay with the breath briefly. (Use a soft toy on the tummy of young children so they can open their eyes and see the toy rising and falling).

Now drop in the scenario you agreed on – that day in the Park. Ask them to visualise the park in as much detail as possible, colours, sounds, textures, tastes, smells. The people present……..then allow a few moments of silence to let everyone immerse themselves in this visualisation. To be fully present in the park at that time, with those people with those sounds, colours, textures, tastes and smells. Imagine, imagine………….. how does it feel? In this moment?

Then encourage a small smile and a slow ‘wake up’ and get up. It may not be as good as an actual day in the park but for the body and brain it will suffice, encouraging us to live life “in peace” for the next few hours at least.