When I was my kids’ age, about ten years old, I spent my days playing outside in the neighborhood. My friends and I explored the creek nearby and ran along a golf course. Sometimes we got into trouble, but most of the time we got lost in our imaginations. During that time, I watched far too many war and sci-fi movies and we ourselves would act like we were Colonial Marines from the movie Aliens hunting xenomorphs or U.S. Army Rangers storming the beaches of Normandy. With little risk of actually getting hurt, it was a way to enjoy what was playing in our heads. I loved getting lost in these stories we would reenact. 

Even now, I am pretty introspective and often get lost in daydreaming. I occasionally get caught by my family members or colleagues laughing or talking to myself when lost in one of these mind adventures. I have no problem being alone. I have a knack for remembering movie and book scenes in my head, replaying some of them over and over. It is entertaining, but it often leaves me a little disappointed. What good is daydreaming if I can’t take that imagination and turn it into action? 

In the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, we get to know the title character, who like me gets lost in his daydreaming. What spurs him is a need to break free from the daydreaming in order to save his company. Thus, his real journey begins. The viewer gets to see his transformation into a man of action who is vulnerable yet learns to take risks and ultimately create the world that was once trapped in his head. After watching the movie recently, I started thinking about what this means as a parent trying to lead children in their own creativity. 

What good is a writer if they don’t put their words down on paper—or digitally, in this case? 

What good is a person who has athletic skill but doesn’t compete out of fear? 

What good is an artist if they don’t pick up the brush to apply oils to canvas?

It is time to break free and wake up. The world wants us to learn imagination early and use it to reflect our creator. 

Songwriter and novelist Andrew Peterson writes in his book Adorning the Dark, “Each of us is a character, in both senses of the word. At times, characters become aware that they’re part of a story, and that brings the realization that, first, there is an author, and second, they are not him.” Peterson goes on, “The Christian’s calling, in part, is to proclaim God’s dominion in every corner of the world—in every corner of our hearts, too.”

What does this have to do with our children?

Our children are watching us. We must instill this in the hearts of our children from a young age. After all, they were born creative. Our children are characters in God’s grand story and he gave them the gift of imagination. They need to see us truly alive to learn how to live life. They need to see us using our imaginations to make sense of this life. C.S. Lewis in Mere Chrisitanity wrote, “For me, reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” 

In imagination we find meaning to the world we live in. It is how we solve problems. It is how we reflect our creator. It is also how we can feel God’s pleasure. Our children are just younger versions of ourselves and, like us, they struggle to find the imagination to create in a world that wants them to conform. 

The following are practical ways to help our children (and perhaps ourselves) awaken their imagination.

Practical ways to cultivate imagination in your child:

  • Show them nature. God’s creation is a gift, and in it, we are invited to a world we need to know more. Take them on hikes. Splash around in a creek. Get dirty. Get down on the forest floor and study what the ants are doing. Have them talk about the world they are experiencing.
  • Read great stories together. 
  • Their physical space is their canvas. What does your physical space in your house look like?
    • Encourage them to play with open-ended toys. Pour out a box of legos. Remember how Emmet in LEGO Movie struggles to escape from relying only on the instructions provided to him?  Just provide a box of legos and say “go.” You’ll be amazed at what they come up with. Another good option is to break out some Play-doh. It is messy, but it is so much fun, and there is no end to what you can create.
    • Set up a space in your house devoted to artwork. Don’t tell your children what to draw. Encourage them to just pick up the marker or paint brush and go. If they feel stuck, ask them questions to prompt them on where to begin. Have them tell you about what their favorite thing to do is and to draw it.
  • Change your routine. Mix it up and go visit a new place to explore. That doesn’t have to be getting in your car. Simply walk to a different part of your neighborhood to see what you can find. This is hard for me because I thrive on routines, but I’m reminded that our children need to also get out of routines to learn new places and situations. Find a new park. Visit a new creek. Climb a new hill (or mountain, if there is one nearby). Enjoy looking up at the clouds and talk about what you see.
  • Take your child to plays and musicals. Show them what it is like to express yourself in public by telling stories through song, dance, and dialogue. Our children absolutely love a good live show.
  • Listen to and play music. I am not a musician, but I am trying to instill music as a part of my children’s education, so they can learn what beauty sounds like.
  • Bring a friend. Life is meant to be experienced together. The earlier children learn this, the better, and you’d be amazed at what two friends come up with when telling or acting out a good story.
  • Pray together. Ask God to give them insight into the dreams He has instilled in them. 

Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable—if there is any moral excellence and if there is anything praiseworthy—dwell on these things.” – Philippians 4:8 CSB


Dave Schroeder leads marketing at B&H Publishing Group and co-hosts the Table of (Mal)Contents podcast about reading widely. He is an avid reader of history, biography, Christian, and fiction books that draw deep life lessons. He writes for Books, LifeWay.com, and teaches church history at West End Community Church. He is married, has two daughters, and lives in Nashville, TN. You can find him at davidmschroeder.com or follow him on twitter @davidmschroeder.