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Omaha Children's Museum is a special place where children can challenge themselves, discover how the world works and learn through play. OCM continues to engage imaginations and create excitement about learning by offering a variety of permanent exhibits and educational programming that focus on art, science and early childhood. It's easy for imaginations to run wild at the children's museum, but how do you continue to engage your children’s imaginations once you get home? Here are five tips:

1. Get Messy!

However you do it, getting messy with your kids is a great way to engage their imagination. Younger children learn about the world around them by playing with objects and feeling, seeing, smelling and even tasting them. These types of sensory-motor experiences construct meaning about the world. Older children are able to craft more elaborate stories (called dramatic play) that go along with experiences, but they too need the chance to engage in multi-sensory play.  Paint with mud, splash outside or get messy in the kitchen and bake cookies together.  Not only are you making great memories with your kids, you are expanding their understanding of the world.

2. Use the "Yes! And…" Rule

Apply the #1 rule that improv actors know – you have to say "Yes! And…" That means anything your kids's imaginations come up with is valid. So, if your kid says, "I have a sister and she is a dinosaur!" You say, "Yes! You do!" By doing this you validate whatever they are thinking about. Maybe this child is exploring what a 'sister' means or they are working out a conversation with a friend. Maybe this child saw a dinosaur in a book and wants to explore different possibilities. By saying "Yes!" you are validating their world and allowing them to process things in their imagination. The improv actor has to move the scene along by adding some direction (hence the AND portion of "Yes! And…"). However, with your child the "AND" looks different; it needs to be an open-ended "AND." So, when you hear about the sister/dinosaur, you could say, "Yes, you do have a sister who is a dinosaur. And where is she now?" By opening up their imagination you are helping them foster their own ideas and allowing them to construct meaning of their own world. 

3. Get Moving!

Often we think about playing basketball or running in the yard as the best way to exercise kids' gross-motor skills, but there are tons of ways to engage your children's imaginations while on the move. Try asking your kids to walk like a monkey, and then ask for more suggestions (kangaroos, zombies, airplane, etc.) to see where they take you. Kids of all ages love to move (and see you move) in funny ways!

For slightly older kids, try playing the "this is not a ball" game. You hold the ball first and say, "this is not a ball… it is an orange!" and proceed to pretend to peel and eat the 'orange.' Throw the ball to the next player and repeat. The sillier the idea, the better! Continue until you run out of ideas! 

4. Dress Up!

I have to admit I am not inclined to let my daughter wear a costume when we go out in public. She loves to don dresses and tiaras, even pirate hats! I am slightly embarrassed when those dress-up clothes make their way out of the safety of our home. I have found that the best way to engage her imagination is to find those places around town that she can dress up. By allowing her to become this character she has put on sends the message that she can be whatever and whoever she wants to be. Later in life I don’t want her to ever feel as if she needs to hide what she likes or who she wants to be. So for now, I find places that the princess dress is appropriate, or better yet places that have a number of costumes readily available. (Her favorite by far, are the animal costumes at Omaha Children's Museum!) 

5. They Make the Rules!

A momentous stage in children's play is when they have the ability to follow games with rules. As children become less ego-centric and are able to take on other's viewpoints, games with rules (usually with a winner and a loser) become an important part of their play. To engage your child's imagination, try letting them come up with the rules themselves. They just might make sure that they end up winning… but you can learn a lot about how your child thinks about what is fair, or what they enjoy to do. 

Play is such an important part of childhood. By providing meaningful opportunities and engaging with your child in their play, you can expand their imaginations and learn a thing or two about your kid! 

Have fun playing! 

Shira Abraham

Omaha Children's Museum

Shira is the Manager of Learning Experiences at Omaha Children's Museum, and loves that she gets to walk past a carousel every day at work! She has a BA in Art History from Columbia University and an MA in Museum Education from Bank Street College of Education.   When not at work, Shira's two adorable red-headed children are begging her to bring them to the museum! From child development to the power of play, Shira believes that there is so much that parents and educators can learn about ...

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