Your family is challenged for time, your child spends most of his time in structured activities and the school is hard-pressed to fit arts programs into the class schedule. But you want your child to grow up to be a creative, imaginative problem-solver and to pursue his dreams. Sound familiar?

Look for everyday opportunities to nurture your child’s creativity in ways that are fun for both of you. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. The long way home.

    When you’re on the way home from a familiar destination, such as school or the grocery store, ask your child to think up different ways to get home. Don’t stop at one practical alternate route, but help her think of wildly fantastic ways to get there and routes to take. What other forms of transportation could you take? Could you go by bike, scooter or helicopter? The creative process involves looking for many solutions to a problem, and the outlandish ones could turn out to be brilliant.

    If you are walking home, take the opportunity to build your child’s observational and imaginative skills. Ask her to point out five things that are new, five things that need to be fixed or five things that are hidden from view. As you pass homes along the way, make some guesses as to who might live there — a family of five, people with eight cats, an older couple, aliens from another planet?

  2. Stretch your imagination while you wait.

    Next time you’re waiting in the dentist’s office or for your meal to arrive at a restaurant, play “What If.” Ask your child what would happen if every family had a space ship? How would he build a house if he lived on a tropical island? What would he eat for breakfast? Some variations:

    Either/or. Ask your child: Would you rather live on a desert island or at the top of a mountain? Would you rather visit the North Pole or the bottom of the ocean? Turn the tables and have your child create the questions.
    Crazy excuses. Pretend you didn’t do your chores. What excuse might you give? For example: “I didn’t take out the garbage because there were poisonous snakes in the backyard.”

  3. Make rainy day collages.

    Save household items like buttons, scraps of colorful paper, bottle caps in a shoebox. Give the box to your child along with tape, glue, stickers and a piece of cardboard, and watch her make a collage. Ask her open-ended questions about her work: “Tell me about this?” or “What do you like about the collage?” “What do you wish you could add?” Remember that creativity is about process, not product, and encourage her to describe her thinking.

  4. Respect your child’s evaluation of his creative efforts.

    When your child brings home pictures from school or creates them at home, display the pieces she chooses, rather than the ones you like the best. The picture you think is a wonderful piece of abstract art may be just a series of blue blobs to her. Ask her why she’s chosen the ones she likes best. If you accept your child’s evaluation of her own work, she’ll learn that you respect her creativity. Research shows that people are more creative when they’re not focusing primarily on how the end result will be judged.

  5. Explore new uses for everyday objects.

    You remember turning a blanket and clothesline into a fort? It took imagination and a lazy afternoon, but no elaborate materials. Give your child the gift of time to turn over a table and make it a boat. Suggest making a painting with cotton swabs or toothbrushes instead of a paint brush.

    A road-trip variation on these games of imaginative thinking with objects: Take turns naming all the ways a person could possibly use a spoon or a juice box or some other item you have in the car. Don’t stop until you’ve come up with some outrageous ideas!