As the days of quarantine or summer holiday (or literally any break from routine and friends) stretch on and on, mamas all face the same refrain — “I’m booooooored” can be heard from thousands of little mouths at any given time on any given day. We’re sure of it. So, how do you keep your kids busy? If they’re big enough, you don’t have to, Mama. You’ve given them the skills and tools to entertain themselves. Unless your literal business card says “Cruise director,” you are not, in fact, a cruise director. It’s not your job to provide 24/7 fun. Really. So, how do you give your younger kids (or, fine, the listless tweens, too) the resources they need to be their own entertainment? By fostering their creativity through imagination games.
Listen, we don’t hate screen time. It has its own merits! But when you want your kiddos to disengage from those screens, they might need some direction. All of these games give them a chance to use their imagination to create their own fun or their own perfect world. The more they use their imagination, the sharper it’ll be. Eventually, they won’t need guidance from you.
Ideas for Imagination Games
1. Popcorn Storytelling
Popcorn storytelling can be done in person or even over Zoom. Just have one kid start a story and let them elaborate for about a minute, then name who continues the story. If you’re in a smaller group, have them rotate or pass the story back and forth for a few rounds before reminding them to wrap it up. If it’s a bigger group, wait until the last three kids and then let them finish things off.
Scribblish is an actual game you can buy that is a bit like a mix of telephone and Pictionary. How will your kiddos draw their interpretation of a simple sentence? And will the next player be able to tell what that picture is supposed to “say?”
3. Empty Box
It’s a joke, but it’s a thousand percent true: Your kids will always enjoy the box more than the toy. So, why even bother with the toys? Next time you get a particularly interesting box, hand it over to your kiddos and see what they do with it.
4. Interpretive Dancing
This can be a lesson in culture, too. Teach your kiddos about Hawaii and how the hula dance typically uses motions to tell a story. Next, let them pick a song and create a dance that interprets the lyrics.
5. Be an Inventor
What would you invent to make your day easier? What would you invent to make life more fun? Have your kids draw the invention or even challenge them with trying to create it.
6. Play House
Playing house can sometimes get a bad rap because, well, it’s easy for kids to fall into society’s assigned gender roles. There’s still so much thought, imagination, and acting involved in playing, though, that it’s a great way to have your kids think creatively. Plus, it could serve as an excellent conversation starter about outdated tropes.
7. Lyrics Writing
“If this song had words, what would they be?” Play an instrumental piece and challenge your children with “completing” the song with lyrics.
8. What’s This About?
Similarly, you could play an instrumental piece and let your kids write or draw what the songs makes them think of. Do they think it tells a story? Does it remind them of a field of flowers? Remember: There are no wrong answers.
9. Finish My Doodle
Looking for a quiet imagination-based activity while riding or sitting through a quiet situation? Start a drawing (a circle, an oval, a few mish-mashed squiggles) and then hand it over for your child to finish.
10. Create a Cookie
Recipe-building requires quite a bit of imagination. After all: Not just anyone would think to turn cereal milk into ice cream. If your kiddo could create their perfect cookie, what would be in it? For an added bonus: Pick up the ingredients and try to create it later that week. Does it taste as scrumptious as they thought it would?
11. Going to the Market
Follow the alphabet to make your ultimate grocery list, plus work on imagination and memory. “I’m going to the market and I’m going to buy an apple, banana cream pie, coconuts, dark chocolate chips, elephant ears, fries…”
This is kind of like popcorn storytime. Start a story with two to three sentences. One sentence should start with unfortunately and another with fortunately. It can go in any order and can create quite the rollercoaster of events for the story’s main character!
13. Two Truths and a Lie
This is one part imagination game, one part icebreaker, and one part a chance to get to know each other. Have each child tell everyone two truths about them and make up one lie. Can you guess which is the lie? Of course, you can also use this game as a teachable moment about the importance of telling the truth.
14. Perfect House/Neighborhood
What would your perfect house look like? Who would live in your perfect neighborhood, and what rules would there be? Depending on the kind of kid you have, challenge them to write about their little utopia or simply draw it out.
15. Cloud Gazing
You’ve done this a million times, right? But did you know this is an imagination game? Challenging your kids to see real objects in blobby shapes is a great start to helping them use their imagination.
16. Secret Spy
Everyone has thought of what it would be like to be a super-secret spy. Go on a secret mission with your kid to get a sandwich or snack. While you move toward the kitchen, pretend your spouse or other objects in the house are obstacles. Help your kid dodge infrared laser beams and security cameras. It’ll be a workout and an adventure for the both of you.
17. Dream job
Maybe your kid has dreams of becoming a prima ballerina or the next Steph Curry. Help them create the moment of their dreams and put on a show or the game of their careers. This will not only encourage your kids to follow their dreams but it’s also fun to pretend your dreams have already come true. You can help them by describing a situation that relates to their careers while they act it out. It’s ok if things get carried away.