3 Golden Rules to Bring Your Child’s Imagination to Life

Prep Time: 45 minutes | Cost: <$1

What if you could capture and expand your child’s imagination instead of leaving that up to a touch screen? A couple of weeks ago we made epic treasure maps, but what really turned out amazing was how we brought the map to life. I used a few props from past Dad Ventures, some storytelling insights, a little lot of improvement, and our make-believe world game to life! My kids and I go on these adventures often and I wanted to share a few insights that have made our make-believe feel authentic and fun.

If you want to make your own map take a look at my free step-by-step instructions here.

If you are looking for the recipe for “British” Tea, scroll to the bottom of this blog. Otherwise… here is how to make the magic happen:

The Golden Rules

Just like it is easier to learn a new game once you have seen someone play it through it will be easier for you to implement these golden rules if you have watched them in action. Watch our short video for inspiration and context.

Golden Rule 1: Follow a Story Arc

Writers know that there is really just one story out there. All stories from Pride and Prejudice to the WWF use these story-telling elements and they work incredibly well. If you are interested in becoming a story nerd like me you can take a look at the Hero’s Journey and learn more in-depth what Joseph Campbell discovered as the DNA of every great myth. But if you are more interested in getting to gold here it is:

  1. Inspire you kids with a call to adventure. For us the map itself was the call to explore new horizons. Often the call is a problem… “Oh no dragons are stealing our gold! Where have they taken it? I guess we will have to pack up our supplies and take back our gold” (ahem … plot of the Hobbit)
  2. Enter into the new and unexplored world and have some person or creature of that world give your kids a boon or gift that will help them. For us it was the mermaids giving them swords.
  3. Your Heroes (children) need to have their resolve and abilities tested. The test can be given by someone who represents the antagonist of the story or some potential ally. For our adventure my dad had them do chores around the farm to then earn shields for their next quest. This is a good time to introduce the antagonist if you have not already done so. Once this step is done they need to feel like the next step will be to directly confront the antagonist.
  4. At this juncture you will want your kids to face the central conflict. It could be the dangerous place on your map or could be the lair of the antagonist.  I have found that this is best accomplished if I play the antagonist. Usually this involves me being eaten by or somehow controlled by the antagonist. It gives them something (someone) real to engage in battle and they get to free me from the clutches of the antagonist when they defeat it.
  5. After the central conflict you should take a moment to enjoy the spoils of war. Eat a snack, get a drink, relive the adventure, talk about what powers or abilities you won from the battle. At this point in our adventure I had the kids meet up with he fairy queen and receive gifts to help them on their final conflict.
  6. From here there should be one final battle, conflict, or task to complete that represents your final victory over the antagonist or the final completion of their task. For us it was exploring the last location on the map so that we could compete the map. For you it could be returning home with the stolen gold or some other boon to your community. I created a separate video for the final conflict which I will link to here once we post it.
  7. The last stage is to return “home” and enjoy the fact that you just went on an adventure. For us this usually takes the form of retelling the story to mama or simply talking about it it over a snack. Often (as in life) the end of one adventure is really just the beginning of another.

Golden Rule 2: Plan Your Use of Props

This may sound obvious to anyone who has played “dress up” but when you are orchestrating an adventure planning ahead can turn things from hum-drum to magical. Using the storytelling steps in the first Golden Rule you can plan when and where to provide props to your kids. I find that it is much more satisfying to my kids when they earn a reward or are given a gift than to simply run to the dress-up bin and pull out whatever hits their fancy. It gives the feeling of progress and of having worked for something that ends up coming in handy. Having masks or even a blanket to put over your head when acting out another character brings them to life. It is amazing how I can go from a good-old-dad to a Yoda-like mentor or a hissing dragon with the simple use of a mask and cloak.

Golden Rule 3: You Better Believe It

Invisibility is no match for belief. If I point to the sky and cower as imaginary bats dive bomb me my kids will search our living room ceiling for creatures to kill. If I pretend to get sucked under a bed as make-believe tentacles pull me under my kids will reach for my hand and shoot fireballs into the dark at my feet. If I believe it, they believe it. See the world you are creating and lead them in reacting to it. Before long their own imaginations will create your surroundings and you will be lead into their world. You will become a hero and earn the right to lead the charge; even in the real world.

How to Make “British” Tea

  1. Bring a pot of water to boil and remove it from the heat source. Add a black-tea teabag for every 8 oz of water in the pot. Let steep for four minutes then remove tea bags (keep for map making).
  2. Warm about 2 oz of whole cream per cup of tea to be made and put it in a small pitcher or mug.
  3. Pour sugar into a bowl along with a tea spoon for later use. We prefer sugar in the raw.
  4. Provide tea cups and small spoons for each member of the tea party.
  5. Pour about 2 oz of cream into the bottom of your tea cup.
  6. Pour black tea into the cream till teacup is nearly full.
  7. Add sugar to taste. Two teaspoons is what we prefer.
  8. Enjoy!

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