The first seven years of a child's life are magical. Children under the age of seven live in the protective cloak of their imagination, and if sheltered from television, media and what can sometimes be termed as "burdensome" information, they can genuinely engage in the most elaborate of play where limitless ideas and images color the interior and exterior of their existence.
Parents of children this age should not underestimate the power and importance of this precious time, and keep in mind that children will have their whole lives to interface with the "real" world. This phase of life is critical for grounding the child in their own sense of self, and in allowing them the opportunity to build and grow and create an idea from scratch. Through imagination is the power to problem solve, the ability to design elaborate playscape's and encourage story telling. Images, colors, and fantasy will take root in their cognitive minds and they will be able to retrieve it and exercise this muscle for the rest of their lives.
It's often difficult as parents to resist the urge to occupy your children in front of the TV. Just like sleep training, helping them build their ability to entertain themselves is one that takes a little bit of time, and patience.
Here are my suggestions for unplugging and getting imaginative juices flowing with your children:
1. Use an open area like your living room and set up baskets or use shelving to display "a few" toys at a time. Essentials for fostering their imagination are toys such as blocks, building bricks, play silks, crayons, paper, and small pieces of furniture that can be moved, and used by them.
2. While you are in the kitchen preparing dinner or doing some household tasks just "hang around" without getting too involved. Put some classical or light music in the CD player or on the itunes and see what happens.
3. You can always start them off by telling them an imaginative story and then suggesting that they continue it. My daughter is very intrigued with Little House on the Prairie, and I read her a chapter at a time. She loves pretending she is like Laura Ingalls and loves to pretend she is going to school etc. Her brother just follows her lead.
4. I often notice that they want to build forts and caverns, and as I watch the pillows from the couch and the play silks and sheets get used for all kinds of interesting uses. Ships, birds nests, caves, houses, and invisible towns take shape in their play. Stones turn into money, and empty baskets turn into sailing vessels for stuffed animals.
As a parent your role is to simply observe and step in obviously if it looks like someone is getting hurt, but if left alone, you would be surprised at how quickly a squabble will be resolved on their own, as they genuinely love this experience and want to work through the dynamics of this type of play with each other. They will easily find their ryhthms with each other and get better at working things out.
Imagination is a beautiful thing, and will make your children have a more rich and engaging mind for problem solving in the future if encouraged!
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