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Posted in , Parenting | 11 comments

Are our children losing their imaginations?

I received a really worrying email yesterday. It worried me so much that I spent a lot of yesterday thinking about it, mulling it over in my mind, imagining what it might mean. 

This is ironic actually, considering the email’s content. The Forestry Commission, those nice folk that look after our dwindling forests, surveyed 2,000 parents of school-aged children and found that 90% of them think children are losing their imaginations by the time they’re ten. 

I was still creating worlds within worlds well beyond that age. Watching Curly Girl making up Scooby Doo adventures with her Shaggy and Velma figures this morning at the breakfast table it was hard to believe that in a few short years she could be too old for this important fun.
Indulging in a little make believe has long been thought to have far-reaching developmental benefits for children: Albert Einstein wrote about the importance of fairy tales in boosting children’s intelligence and the child psychotherapist Bruno Bettelheim believed fairy tales helped children develop independence and key social skills such as empathy.

As well as providing important moral lessons, fairy tales create a space where children can vent complicated feelings, explore their wildest dreams and confront their fears about the big bad monster, finding a way to decipher good from evil and resolve conflicts. (There’s an interesting article about this at Reader’s Digest.)

So it’s really worrying that of the 2,000 parents of school-age children surveyed by Forestry Commission England, nearly three quarters think that today’s children play outdoors less than they did as children and half (51%) believe this directly influences how much imagination they have. Nearly half (43%) thought that children today are less imaginative than they were as children. A further 37% admitted that their children don’t create their own games using their imaginations and over a quarter (28%) reported that their children rarely or never make up stories.Three quarters think children spend too much time on computers and games consoles and over half (55%) think the rise in technology use is also responsible for children’s lack of imagination.

I wonder what these parents are doing about this? I wonder if they are limiting their children’s TV viewing time, shutting down the games consoles and taking them outside to play? I hope so. 

If they are then they could do worse than take them along to one of The Forestry Commission’s Fairy Tales events this Summer. The Forest Fairy Tales campaign is inviting parents and their children to enjoy the magic of the forest throughout 2013 with events taking place across the country including fairy trails, sculpture making, picnics, crafts and story walks across various Forestry Commission sites. The Commission hopes to engage a whole generation of youngsters in imaginative outdoor play and reverse perceptions many parents have about their child’s interest in the world of pretend.

Rachel Giles of the Forestry Commission said:

“Forests are the perfect backdrop to inspire children’s imaginations as many of the most exciting fairy tales are set in the woods, and Forest Fairy Tales will encourage children to explore new worlds using their imaginations, becoming Little Red Riding Hood, a brave knight or a wicked witch.
“Our research shows that many children aren’t engaging in outdoor play to the same extent as their parents did, and we must work harder to encourage those young people to go outside and use their imaginations before the joy of make-believe and pretend is lost forever.

To find out more about the The Forest Fairy Tales campaign and to download free online activity sheets visit .

Do you worry about your children’s use of imaginative play? Do you think your children are less imaginative than YOU were when you were young?

Have you seen these?


  1. We loved the outdoor adventures we had in Scotland on our ‘staycation’. That said, I do think if you’re careful about what television programmes children watch they can stimulate their imagination too. Thanks so much for commenting :)

  2. That’s such a good point Ben. It is easy to look back and say ‘we didn’t have x, y or z’ but that doesn’t mean that our children are worse off for having them if as you say a balance is struck. I do agree with you though – outside play is SO important.

  3. I love going on outdoor adventures with my kids where we ‘make up stories.’ I also try and limit the amount of TV they can watch as I think it completely inhibits imagination and is just passive entertainment.

  4. I hope we aren’t looking at this too much through rose tinted glasses of what our childhoods were like or simply blaming technology. But as one of the other commentators say there is a balance to be had.
    I know I am very conscious to inspire my children to enjoy the outdoors and have fun making dens in the woods of building dams in streams. I think this is really important for their development and learning. Certainly better than the vast majority of activities that many children do today on a computer.

  5. This is really complex. Are kids actually less imaginative or creative, or do they display it in different ways? Put a child in front of a computer game where they need to build things (think Minecraft or Sim Cities), and their imagination not only runs rampant, but they also get to actually create things (albeit on a screen) that we could never have done as kids. I think it’s actually more nuanced than the survey would lead us to believe.

    I think the reality is that they have the opportunity at the moment, if their time with gadgets and with the physical world are balanced, to not only imagine, but also create, in ways that are truly mind-expanding. The challenge is that the instant gratification of a video game of some sort is highly addictive, and so unchecked, it would be their choice for endless hours. And this sadly is truer of mindless games than of mind-expanding ones. And whereas the respite from having to constantly cajole them into activities (and too much parenting here can be just as limiting on their creativity) is made easier for many parents by the presence of an iPad or X-Box Kinnect, these devices should enhance and not replace their time playing and exploring the non-technical worlds.

    And that for me is the key word – balance. Technology is essential for this generation, but its use can’t come at the cost of leaving behind social, physical and environmental appreciation and skills.

  6. You’re absolutely right – there’s so much pressure put on kids to achieve from a young age that sometimes just ‘playing’ gets left behind! Thanks for popping over to comment :)

  7. We bought Pip a playmobil castle for his birthday with the express intention of encouraging imaginative role play. Yesterday we played together with it and it was quite amazing the different scenarios he came up with including how he incorporated Thomas the Tank engine trains and an Octonauts Gup X into the scenarios! I think the right TV programmes (in limited doses) can help stimulate imagination – I have certainly seen scenarios from Tree fu Tom incorporated into our play! I think the danger zone is as they get older tween age – and are sucked into the peer mode of playing with computer consoles etc. I also think that in this day and age, they are so busy learning at school, doing extra curricular activities and clubs that in their free time (term time) they are often so tired they do just want to chill out a bit. So much is expected of kids – I think we forget that they can learn through play too. It’s not all about KUMON Maths and achieving Grade 8 piano.

    Outdoor play is so important for kids – I love taking my son to the woods near my Mum – it reminds me of my own childhood and the games we used to play. I think the younger years are so important in terms of teaching them how to play/ use their imaginations. I remember us having a big ‘dressing up box’ when we were kids. I rarely see these at houses now when we go on playdates, only the standard character costumes. Shame really, as that was one of our favourite things to do. *Makes note to create one*

  8. I agree and try to limit the time Curly Girl spends watching TV (we don’t have a games console) so that she creates her own little worlds to play in. Ironically the problem this Summer hols is not the inconsistent sunshine, but the consistent HEAT! Thanks for commenting lovely x

  9. Actually I agree with you, to an extent. A lot of children DO have all these extra things and that’s great. But a lot of children don’t and just plop down in front of the Xbox or whatever all day ling. I’m not against technology, far from it – this generation’s children need to learn to use it because it will be a part of their lives. But I do think there needs to be time away from technology to invest in being bored, using their own minds for creative play. I agree that it’s easy to get overwhelmed sometimes and feel like we as parents need to structure everything but in this case I don’t think it means much more than be strict about limiting tv and techology time….

  10. That’s made me really sad. I hope to fuel and help keep my kid’s imagination and creativity going…I don’t think I’ve ever lost my ability to lose my imagination-it’s such a huge part of my work writing and directing and even blogging. I do think with so much focus on new technology (which is great to some extent) less time is spent outdoors, playing, creating, being kids. I don’t think the inconsistent sunshine helps either.

    Oliver loves imaginative play and performing and I want to support that and ensure I help him keep his imagination alive…thanks so much for this post Honest Mum x

  11. Yes, of course they are less imaginative then we were. But maybe that’s ok. Maybe every generation has its losses and gains. They’ve lost out on free time outside, but they have much more parental supervision, structured learning, are introduced to more activities, and look at all those techno skills they learn.

    I just feel a bit desperate when I read posts like this. I can’t make it all alright for my kids. I mean, we all do our best, but we can’t create that perfect childhood where they have time and space and ability for EVERYTHING. I get that “we must work harder to encourage those young people to go outside and use their imaginations…”, but I’d like to think that someone, somewhere is saying “we must work harder to encourage those mothers and fathers to relax and not feel over-loaded with more and more things that they are meant to be doing, but are probably not managing to do”.

    Sorry if this sounds critical. It’s not meant to. I agree with your post entirely. I just get a little overwhelmed from time to time. As I say, I can’t make it all alright for my own kids, let alone anyone else’s!


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