In this day and age of instant gratification via the Internet, imagination – the art of it, the joy of it – is lost on our children. There are many wonderful programs available on the Internet to teach even the youngest boys and girls, but is there anything that can compete with their own imagination?

Their imagination is where their dreams lie, where their magic awaits, and where monsters and ghouls lurk in the shadows. All of these have their place in teaching our children what is fact, what is fiction, and what is best left to them to figure out on their own.

Here are a few suggestions to foster imaginative play with your children, all while allowing you to introduce them to your inner child. Together, you can foster a relationship of whimsy and wonder, education and engagement, and have it be something your children will look back on fondly.

Write a story together

Invest in a sturdy journal, one your child can carry around, spill juice on, and pick up with sticky peanut-buttery fingers without fear of it being ruined. The wonderful thing about creating an imaginative story is that you don’t need to be old enough to read or write. You can write the words while encouraging them to continue their thought process which may, at times, seem nonsensical.

But to them it is real – it’s them imagining. Grab the Crayola’s and let your kids illustrate the story. There is no right or wrong, and as they get older and more articulate, story-telling is a wonderful way for them to, wittingly or not, let you know what’s going on in their world. It fosters collaboration and working as a team. It can be an ongoing story or a journal of several stories. Think what a cherished item it will be when they’re grown.

Plant something inside

My kids loved watching things grow. This activity requires a little patience, but is well worth it and a good way to enlighten your children about where food comes from. We started sweet potato plants, which grow rapidly and produce a lush, leafy vine.

All you need is a firm, slender sweet potato (one that will fit in a mason jar with room to spare), some toothpicks, and a mason jar. Stick four toothpicks in the sweet potato about halfway down the potato. Fill the mason jar with enough water to cover the bottom half of the potato once placed in the jar allowing the toothpicks to rest on the side, suspending the potato. Place in a sunny spot. Change the water as needed and, in a few days, you should see roots appearing and dangling in the water.

About three weeks later, sprouts will appear at the top of the potato and they’ll grow into a long, beautiful vine. After a couple of months, you can transfer the potato to a pot with soil and continue growing. You may need to prune the vine so it will bush out a bit and it may need a stake to support it.

You can even transfer it outside to grow actual potatoes if you choose, depending on what time of year it is. Your child can help with each step and will be delighted when roots and sprouts begin to appear. Imagine all the conversations this can lead to: where food comes from, photosynthesis (an age appropriate version of air/sun/water/life), Mother Nature and how all life depends on other life to be sustained. The possibilities are endless.

Build a good old-fashioned fort

Sling the cushions off the couch, grab some old sheets and blankets and have at it. Is it a teepee? Is it an igloo? Is it a hide-out? Who knows. Ask your child to elaborate. Have them cover all the bases by asking questions to spark imagination.

“You have a big entrance to get in. Hmmm, what about getting out another way?” It’s a great time to play, rearrange to suit different scenarios imagined, and then with a snack and pillows, a wonderful time and place to settle down with a good book and take a nap together. It all fosters togetherness, role-playing, co-creating, and mostly, imagination.

Developing open communication skills with your child through play lays a firm foundation and – with time, nurturing, and patience – can help eliminate some of the angst children experience throughout different stages of life.

Wonder, delight, joy, problem-solving, team work, communication skills, knowledge, expansion, hypothesizing, sparking ideas, self-confidence, creativity, and so much more can be fostered by nurturing the imagination of those who will one day, change the world.