Thursday, November 24, 2011

What you can do to spark your grade-schooler's imagination

Read books. Even if your grade-schooler is reading on her own, it's a good idea to keep looking at books together and to find ways to make reading fun. Besides the valuable cuddle time, talking with her about the stories will help fuel her imagination. Expose her to different authors and different kinds of writing — science fiction, historical fiction, poetry, diaries. Also be sure to show her that there are books for finding out about things -- reference and other nonfiction books to answer questions of all sorts. This demonstrates that there's a huge world out there — and that it's within her grasp.

Share stories. Make up stories together. Your own tales will not only provide a sense of possibilities for your child's inventive thinking, they'll demonstrate the basics of creating characters and plots. And using your child as the main character helps expand her sense of self and gives her the vicarious experience of having fantastic adventures.

If your child enjoys making up her own stories, encourage her writing skills: Prompt her to put her stories on paper, either by handwriting or by typing on the computer, and bind the pages into little books she can illustrate. Some kids will take right off with this project; others will need a bit more direction ("Why don't you write a sentence that describes the lion, then a sentence about how Sarah felt when he escaped from his cage?"). Many grade-schoolers enjoy keeping journals filled with entries about their daily encounters, flights of fancy, and concerns.

Relish her artwork. Your grade-schooler is now more goal-oriented than when she was younger, so with art projects she may be focusing more on the outcome than on the process. Do what you can to help her enjoy the creative activity itself and avoid frustration with less-than-perfect results. If she asks for your help in drawing or making a representational object, resist the urge to jump in and do it for her; instead, walk her through the conceptual steps, asking her what elements make up a house, for instance, or what details she remembers about her classroom if she's drawing her school. You can also cut out pictures from magazines and catalogs that may inspire her to offer her own renditions. And be sure to supply examples of other artwork — from classical to modern — so she can see that art includes a wide range of interpretations, perspectives, and styles.

Make music. By now your grade-schooler may be eager and ready for music lessons. If you're unsure, ask an instructor to help you evaluate your child's readiness. Whether or not she plays an instrument, you can still fill her world with music. Listen to a variety of tunes together and encourage her to participate by singing, dancing, or playing instruments — real, toy, or homemade. She can follow along with a song being played or make up her own, complete with lyrics. (Be sure to have a video or audio recorder on hand!)

Encourage pretend play. Children learn a lot from dramatizing events from their daily — and fantasy — lives. When your grade-schooler invents a scenario and plot line and peoples it with characters ("I'm the doctor and you're the patient and you need a shot"), she develops social and verbal skills. She'll work out emotional issues as she replays scenarios that involve feeling happy, sad, frightened, or safe. She might reenact the tiff on the school playground today, for example, or role-play different ways to handle the copycat who sits next to her in class.

She'll develop her understanding of cause and effect as she imagines how you or her friend or her teacher would behave in a particular situation. She's also practicing discipline, especially since she'll be making the rules herself or in collaboration with a playmate (the array of intricate rules kids come up with always astounds adults).

Provide props. Towels become turbans, plastic bracelets become precious jewels, old bathroom rugs turn into magic carpets, and that moth-eaten collection of stuffed animals transforms itself into a rain forest, animal hospital, or farm. Because children playing imaginative games love to assume the role of someone else — a parent, a baby, a pet — a simple object like a toy cash register or a chalkboard can be all it takes to spark creative play. Since most of the action happens inside your child's head, the best props are often generic, and detailed costumes modeled after specific superheroes really aren't needed.

Providing a special box or trunk to hold pretending paraphernalia can make playtime even more of an adventure, especially if you occasionally restock when your child's not looking ("Let's see what's in the trunk today!"). Including more than one of the same item can help, too, since two pirates or princesses are always better than one.

Use the computer judiciously. Just because tech companies are churning out software for kids doesn't mean your child will turn out computer-illiterate if she doesn't do daily computer time. Still, there are quality programs that can spark a grade-schooler's imagination, from drawing, painting, and music software to geography games. And the Internet can be invaluable for looking up topics of interest and exposing your child to different cultures and ideas from around the world.

Limit TV time. When it comes to your child's TV viewing, balance is key. Some excellent programs can show your child how a rocket is launched, for example, or how kids her age live in Japan, and you can record shows to provide quality programming on your schedule. But don't overdo it.

Movies and TV shows tend to limit a budding imagination since they do the visualizing for your child, says Michael Meyerhoff, executive director of Epicenter, a parenting information center in Illinois. If your child does watch TV, keep it to less than an hour or two a day. Resist the temptation to use it as an electronic babysitter; instead, sit and watch along with her, posing questions, expanding on ideas presented in the show or movie, and finding out what strikes her as most interesting.

Let her be bored. We tend to think we need to provide our children with constant enrichment through school, after-school activities, and weekend sports or music classes. And it's painful to hear "I'm booooored!" on unscheduled Saturday afternoons. But don't feel compelled to whip up an activity every time she whines. Being forced to figure out how to amuse herself often leads to the most inventive and absorbing games your child will play. You never know what you might learn yourself when she decides to see if one roll of Scotch tape can run from the upstairs bathroom all the way to the backyard, or whether couch cushions balanced on blocks make as good a fort as a blanket slung over the kitchen chairs.

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thank you....