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Learning with Toopy and Binoo

Toopy and Binoo offer children games and activities to develop the imagination, because it is an essential tool for kids starting school. Come and learn about how your child can take advantage of the site and get advice and game suggestions.

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The imagination: wings of discovery and learning!

What is the imagination?
It is an intellectual faculty that enables us to make a mental representation of things-both familiar things and those we are seeking to understand. When, for example, a child "imagines" the arrival of Santa Claus, she "sees it in her head" and creates a scenario based on her understanding of the event. To do so, she uses familiar elements (e.g., a sleigh, reindeer, and snow) and arranges them all together into something that makes sense for her. The more imaginative children are, the more scenarios they can create by changing and rearranging the elements.

How is the imagination useful?
With it, we can make an image of something that is not visible to the eyes! More concretely, it allows us to "see" what we are being told (e.g., someone tells us a story and we see it in our head), grasp the meaning of a word (we hear the word "house" and see it in our mind), propose solutions to a problem (we could do it this way, or that way?), anticipate the consequences of an action (if we pile it too high, it will fall!), solve riddles (where is my friend hiding? Where is the treasure hidden?), make up stories, invent games, etc. With the power of the imagination, children can adapt effectively to any situation because they can imagine a wide array of ways to act or react. The imagination gives us wings!

Are children naturally imaginative?
It is commonly believed that youngsters are naturally imaginative and that this diminishes over time. But it is rather their naive and primitive understanding of things that makes it seem as if they are wildly imaginative (e.g., their ready belief that the white plastic-covered hay bales we see dotting fields are giant marshmallows!). In reality, they perceive things according to their capacity for understanding. Their partially developed sense of logic and limited life experience influence their perception, bestowing a fantasy-like aspect on the world. The imagination is developed through exercise, and this is true for both young and old; like memory and logic, it is an essential asset for school.

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Developing the imagination every day

Here are a few tips you can use to stimulate your child's imaginative development:

Exposure to new experiences
Exposure to experiences of all kinds and contact with different images, sounds, places, and settings allows children to memorize a vast array of information that nourishes their imagination; it constitutes an extraordinary reservoir for the imagination. Encourage children's curiosity and focus on their particular interests to expand their horizons: music, books, and stories of all kinds will expand their knowledge and enhance their appreciation. You can also have fun as a family by recounting what each of you has learned that day.

Explore using the senses
Teach children to use all their senses, to observe, listen, fully experience the moment and pay attention to what they are tasting or touching. Play at finding words to describe what they touched, saw, heard, or tasted . . . they can event invent words! It's soft, sweet, pointed, explosive . . . megasupercool!

Change how you do things
Today, we're going to change how we do things! Without completely upsetting the child's routine (essential for the child's sense of security), we can have play with the child at changing the way we do certain things. One idea is to have a backwards day (e.g., start the meal with with dessert, put shoes on the wrong feet, etc.), go out in pyjamas, reverse Mommy and Daddy's roles, sit on the floor to eat or change the route to get to the day care centre!

Once upon a time
Have fun making up a story with your child about a character that you invent and name and then propose the beginning of the story. For example, the story of Mario who wanted to go sledding in the snow but didn't have a sleigh so he decided to slide on a . . . Continue the story with your child's suggestion and think up funny situations. Using the same character for a new story has its advantages too: children get attached to the character and are increasingly able to imagine situations that the character can get into. Waiting periods (travelling, waiting to see the doctor, in the store) are good opportunities to play this game.

Tell stories over and over
Take a familiar story and reinvent it. Add unusal objects and transfer the action to other locations or eras; reverse roles ("but the wolf was scared of the granny"). You'll see you're your child will quickly get into the game and provide his or her own ideas.

Turn the chair into a bobsled
Choose an object (spoon, soap, etc.) and have fun dreaming up absurd uses for it with your child. The spoon can become a shovel for playing in the snow, a microphone, a pencil, or a rocket blasting off; the soap bar can turn into a flying carpet, a sleigh, a remote control, a sound recorder, etc.

Explore an image
Choose an image (painting, advertisement, etc.) and ask the child to tell you what is going on for the character in the image: where does she come from? Where is she going? How did he do that? By seeking explanations and motivation and the story behind the scene or the characters, we stimulate children's curiosity, and encourage them to ask questions and imagine what is unseen but exists nevertheless.

Our very own rhymes
Take a rhyme the child knows and have fun transforming it with him. Change a few words even if it makes no sense, just for the fun of playing with words and sounds. Suggest absurd words to stimulate the child to follow suit. The more they laugh the more they want to play!

Pantomim
A little game that several people can play. Everyone picks an image (animal) and mimics it while the others try to guess what animal it is. A variation of this game would be to pantomime in pairs to stimulate a child who has difficulty with miming.

Playacting
"We'll pretend that I'm the mother." Playacting is second nature for children. Take advantage of this talent. Participate by playing a character yourself or pretend to be the audience.

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Another way to develop the imagination: encourage creativity!

Encouraging the child's creativity through art is another way to stimulate his or her imagination. It only requires a few simple steps:

Physical environment
Give the child a "work space" and stimulating tools, for example:

  • A corner with a table or other washable surface (a big cardboard box placed upside down and covered with a plastic table cloth).
  • Drawing or crafts tools and materials (paper, cardboard, scissors, crayons, sticky tape, egg carton, wood shavings, scraps of cloth, tree leaves, sand, etc.).
  • A space to display images and the child's most recent art works (board, fridge door, back of the bedroom door.
  • A way to preserve all the child's creations (binder, illustration board, large shoe box, etc.) that the child can keep where she wants (bedroom, cupboard).

The role of the parent

  • Take advantage of inspiring occasions to encourage your child's creativity (e.g., a sleigh ride is a great occasion to suggest that he draw or construct a mountain or something else connected with the sleigh ride (or, just talk about how much fun it is to go sledding and an idea may come!)
  • Encourage her to come up with her own idea. The initial idea may lead to other surprising avenues of thought (e.g., creating vehicles that go even faster than a sled--why not a rocket?
  • Let him experiment, helping him if he expresses the need. Ask her questions about what she wants you to do to help her; question her about the result she's seeking before you intervene.
  • Don't tell him the best way to do something or judge his creation. Unexpected results are part of the creative process and can suggest to the child ways he can change his creation. Everything has a use!
  • Offer her materials and ideas she can add to her creation, but never impose them (e.g., I have some corrugated cardboard, would you like some? Do you think that if you folded the paper in two it would be easier?)
  • Encourage and congratulate her but don't forget to ask her for her own opinion. Young children can be very critical about their creations and quick to say "I wrecked it!" Sometimes their disappointment stems from the fact that their creation does not resemble what they had in mind (you can then suggest ways of doing it), it's not sturdy enough (maybe there's a way to stabilize it?), or it doesn't work (a paper boat that won't float could perhaps be covered with plastic wrap?). Accept the child's judgement and help him try it again or transform it (it looks like something else and the fact that it's different makes it possible to play another kind of game: the boat becomes a submarine).
  • Don't overload the child with activities. Make suggestions and respect the child's pace. For some children it's easy and they take great pleasure in drawing, painting, cutting and pasting; others prefer more physical kinds of activities that can also give them an opportunity to express their creativity (e.g., inventing new kinds of spins and jumps, new types of sleds, etc.).

 

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