The importance of imagination in early childhood

The importance of imagination in early childhood

“It’s the ponies that make the sky pink Mum”

Years ago one of my daughters invented this theory.  When I asked her why she thought the sky sometimes turned pink, she pondered the question, and then, out of the blue informed me that “The ponies are to blame”.  Ten years on, she still gazes at the sky and with a slight giggle says “Look…. the ponies are here Mum”.  I love this memory as it reminds me about the importance of allowing children to be children.  Children who are given the freedom to speculate and develop their own theories about the world around them.

We are now living in a society where we feel pressured that our children need to be ‘productive’.  That somehow being a ‘good’ parent means enrolling our children in a range of  structured after preschool activities and/or sports.  We may consider that our role is to provide constant opportunities, entertainment and experiences in order to prepare our children for their future.  The reality is that current developmental theory and research supports our children’s need for down time.  Our children need opportunities TO BE BORED, for just being, and simply PLAYING.

It is silly to think that we have to defend our children’s right to play (REAL play, not activities directed by adults), but here I am defending it again, right here and now.  

In the world of child development and academia you may hear people use phrases like “critical thinking skills” and “creative problem-solving capabilities”.  What they are actually referring to is your child’s imagination. The way to create human beings with imagination is to provide them with opportunities to develop it for themselves when they are very young. If we want to raise the next generation of thinkers, problem-solvers, entrepreneurs, inventors     we need to foster our children’s imagination and creativity.  

As parents and educators, we can take some steps to inspire our child’s imagination and creativity:

  • Spend time outdoors engaging with nature
  • Allow lots and lots of time for unstructured/undirected play
  • Encourage art activities that nurture your child’s creative expression (rather following prescriptions and conforming)
  • Ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions “What do you think would happen if?” 
  • Engage in verbal activities – riddles, rhymes, silly games, “I spy”
  • Tell stories to your child – get them to tell you stories!
  • Limit screen time
  • Give them basic tools to play - basic house hold items and natural/generic materials (forget the fancy plastic toys and keep it simple and open ended).  The more passive the item the more creative your child can be.
  • Allow for plenty of down time –  time to be BORED


“A motivated child is one who is raised to seek new experiences, not one who is endlessly protected from boredom” - (Ungar, 2017)


Our advice at New Shoots is that early childhood is a small window of opportunity for your child to ponder, stumble, wonder,  imagine, mess-up, learn, fail, try again, create and JUST BE. 

Let’s allow them to believe that the ponies make the sky pink!

Written by Kelly Warren
Teachers' Curriculum and Registration Advisor for New Shoots


When you’re ready to find the Centre that best fits your family, there are New Shoots Children's Centres around Auckland, Waikato and the Bay of Plenty. We would love to meet you and your child! 

Our website is a great place to start to get to know us. You can:

We love what we do, and we look forward to welcoming you into our community!

ParentingJen Sievers