My children never used to use their imagination during play. They do now and I have my husband to thank for that! He has done a wonderful job encouraging our children to use their imagination.  Here are some of the ways:
Create a Storyline
First, he encouraged the kids to have a "storyline" when they play. He would challenge them to play for an hour and tell him their storyline when he got home from work. 
I chuckle as I recall my son Dylan when he was 4. In his storyline, his guy was always falling. That's it.  Now, I can't keep up with all the complex plots and storylines going on! 
Second, he plays with them and they build great storylines together. It is amazing watching them play! 
Oh, and favorites to play with are cars, G.I. Joes, legos, blocks, and Playmobil, and Go Anywhere Girls and babies/dolls (for my only girl). 
He challenges them to play with anything. For example, a bowl of popcorn becomes an army. The popcorn is lined up on the table and popcorn missiles go flying! This is how Luke played as a child. He didn't need fancy toys to entertain himself. Which is why he is such a wonderful writer. He wrote a wonderful children's book about a little boy and his imagination and I hope he will have it illustrated and published one day. 
One game that he devised with the boys involves using Matchbox cars and a die with the tiled floor as a race track.  While taking turns they roll the die and move their vehicle that many spaces (tiles) forward.  If they roll a '3' then they roll again and move somebody else's car back that many spaces.  Once at our campsite, without any cars and only a die in hand, each boy selected items to represent their "vehicle".  One boy selected four flowers to represent his four cars while another selected two big logs and two plastic water jugs for his teams.  Luke chose a pine cone and a dirt clump for one team and two rocks for his other team.  It was the beginning of fun!
Table Talk Fun
During meals we play add on and memory games. One we play is called "My Buddy." We go around the table and add on a characteristic of our "buddy."  The first person picks the first feature, whether it be eyes, ears, nose, hair, etc. Then they say, "My buddy has a big freckled nose with long hair sticking out of his nostrils" (they are boys). The more descriptive words (adjectives) the better! Then everyone adds a nose to their imaginary friend. The last person begins the next round, adds another feature and repeats all the features before.  At the end everyone has a unique imaginary buddy, for example: 
"My buddy has a big freckled nose with long hair sticking out of his nostrils, big colorful elephant ears, wild frizzy hair, and purple polka dotted shoes . . . "
This is great because it encourages family time at the table. 
Pretend Play and Dress Up
This is one way that I encourage their imagination. My boy's favorite themes are "Hobos," "Hardy Boys" and "Mountain Men". They spend a lot of their free time creating and crafting props for their play.  
Hobo props:
  • Hobo stove
  • Suspenders
  • Old dirty cowboy shirt
  • Jeans
  • Old hat
  • Old beat up sunglasses
  • Soot or ashes for a mustache
  • Handkerchief
  • Deck of cards
Hardy Boys props:
  • Hardy Boy Kit (a tackle box filled with items below)
  • Homemade gadgets (such as "bugs" made from old electronic components -they take apart old machines and salvage parts for gadgets).
  • Old Cell phone with "secret compartment" (the part where the battery is stored)
  • Camera
  • Tape recorder
  • Spyware (wires, trip wires, bugs)
  • Disguises
  • Magnifying glass
  • Telescope
  • Wallet
  • Magnets
  • Flashlight
  • Book with hidden compartment
  • Tools (mini screw driver, file, etc.)
Mountain Man props:
  • Mountain man jacket (I take old leather jackets that I find at thrift stores and add fringe to them and sew on antler buttons)
  • Coon skin cap (or cowboy hat in more recent times)
  • Homemade hatchet
  • Possibles bag (leather bag to hold all their possibles (belongings)
  • Possibles (bandana, horn cup, tin cup, canteen, magnesium fire starter, tinder, coon and beaver skins for trade, ammo (discarded shells), etc.)
Here is the first Mountain Man outfit I made for Jordan 4 years ago!
And here is a recent picture - he was going for a "serious" look and couldn't stop smiling for the longest time!
You can see that the love of pretend "Mountain Man" play has lasted fours years and is going strong. Except that now that the boys are older, they are incorporating real possibles and supplies that a mountain man might carry and are building their dream "fort" in the mountains.
Imagination is Vital
Imagination is not only important, but vital. It keeps children from getting bored (and out of trouble) because it encourages them to be innovative by turning anything around them into something fun. It makes them thankful for everything they have because they can utilize practically anything to have fun. And it helps foster a creative sense that will help them become better problem solvers when the proper tool or procedure is unavailable and they must improvise.
One thing that helped them learn to solve problems with creativity and imagination was participating in D.I. (Destination Imagination). Nathan and Dylan's team took 1st place at State! Now, they see complex problems as a "D.I. challenge." In simple challenges, you are given a problem, a few supplies and they have to solve the problem, create a story, build a tool to use in solving the problem and then act it out! Great fun!
Playing with creativity and imagination encourages thinking, teaches them to solve problems creatively, keeps kids from getting bored and helps them to find joy no matter what the circumstances are! 


  1. I love the matchbox cars game and the prop ideas--I've got to do the prop boxes for my kids!!

    As usual you have great ideas to share with everyone:-)!!

  2. I'm LOL at your son's character only falling a lot. Too funny!

    It sounds like you all have a great time playing!

  3. Great ideas, and I love the Hardy Boys' kit!! Looks like they have a lot of fun!

  4. the my buddy game is really funny!

  5. What a great record of the times you've had as a family, and now passing those ideas on to us. Thanks so much, Michelle. Blessings and grace and incredible peace to ya'll!

  6. The pictures made me laugh - your children are so lucky to have such creative and imaginative parents. It's great that your husband really tries to keep the imagination flowing in your house.

  7. What super ideas! I know I have said it before, but, Chel, you are SO creative! I wish you could teach me :D