― J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan
To children, their imagination is not an escape from reality, it is their reality. There really is tea in that cup and it is delicious! And I am not a grandfather in my sixties. I'm now a little brother who somehow will stop for afternoon tea with his big sister (now that is imagination!)
Imagination is helpful to parents when it occupies the young ones while they can play alone with their dolls or trucks. But sometimes they want you to pretend with them. Ugh! This is not exactly like watching college football or playing golf! But sometimes you've just got to give of yourself and go along. Personally, I've been a mermaid, a fairy, a horse, a monkey, and as I mentioned, a little brother - among other things. I would not want my friends to see me acting out as a mermaid. The monkey thing may have gotten out.
When any one imagines, their world expands and their brain is exercised. This is particularly true for children. But kids imagination needs fertilizer. They need to see and do things that will cause them to reflect on and expand beyond reality. Reading books to them introduces them to many wonderful things to wonder about. My daughter constantly gives my 5 year old granddaughter projects to do with odds and ends around the house. They've been to the zoo and science center too many times to count. My daughter and son-in-law keep my granddaughter away from television most of the time, but let her watch 'Animal Planet' and such things. This is good stuff, I think, but I'll let her get away with 'Dora the Explorer' or 'Team Umi Zoomi', occasionally.
Thinking creatively can be increased by your environment as a kid. One study I read stated that only about 10% of creative geniuses are from middle class families. Most are from families of intellectuals, where creative pursuits were strongly encouraged, while about 30% are from poor but hard working families. The secret to creative success seems to be encouragement to pursue intellectual activity, either by those parents who know its value firsthand, or by those parents who
know its potential in making the lives of their children better. The middle class falls in between, maybe too comfortable to dream of better things, while not particularly pushed toward intellectual pursuits - not always the environment that stimulates creativity.
But don't worry about your children being creative geniuses. Just give them the freedom, incentives and ammunition to imagine.
Oh, and ask them what they see in a billowy cloud.