What exactly is imagination? Where does it come from? And how do we improve it? Discover how reading develops imagination in your child

Take a good look at everything around you. That building. This phone, tablet or computer.

Those cars. That plane. Even that coffee, with its unique taste and aroma.

These things are all related in one very important way – once upon a time, they were not real, they were only a thought.

An idea. A concept. A design. A dream.

Everything in the human world around us was once nothing but someone’s imagination.

That’s the power of imagination – it created the world we live in now.

And it’s vital for our future. As Carl Sagan puts it: “Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere.”

Now, you might have heard it said that one of the benefits of reading is that it helps stimulate the imagination. But you might be surprised at just how serious and fundamentally human the imagination is…

How does a child’s imagination develop?

Would you believe that the “whimsical” processes like creativity and imagination actually come from some of the most serious and sensible parts of the brain?

It’s amazing to think that your child’s imagination literally develops as these areas of the brain develop:

As a side note, the development of language and communication is also vital, because that’s what allows your child to express their ideas – expression is important for imagination.

How reading develops imagination in your child 

You might have already guessed it, but yes, researchers have shown that reading develops all those parts of the brain that are linked to imagination.

That’s to say, they hooked MRIs and all kinds of fancy tools up to people's heads and asked them to read, and then checked which parts of the brain light up while reading.

And, ditto.

Here are a few reasons why we think reading is an especially useful tool for developing the imagination:

1. It expands a child’s understanding of the world

Reading about new and different perspectives, cultures and ways of life helps broaden their understanding of the world and may inspire new ideas.

2. It contributes to imaginary play

One of the most important ways to develop your child's executive function skills (important brain functions like planning, critical thinking etc.) is through imaginary play. This is when children take on “roles” in an imaginary situation, usually acting out a real-world scenario. For example: one child is a patient pretending to be sick and the other plays the doctor, who treats the patient. Or imagined shopkeeper and customer, etc.

It’s thought that reading gives your child more background, tools and experience to really enrich their imaginary play.

Looking for something to read that’s just for fun? Check out our Books Just for Fun.

3. Improves visualisation skills

Text often inspires children to create mental images of what they’ve read, which improves visualisation skills and the ability to imagine.

4. Encourages creativity

By presenting new ideas, places and perspectives in a logical format (beginning middle, end), reading often inspires children to mimic the process and explore and express their own unique ideas. That’s why she might suddenly take fancy to unicorns for two weeks after you’ve read a book on them.

Have you read 5 Ways Reading Develops Creativity?

5. Developing language and communication skills

By exposing the child to words, phrases, text and (if you’re reading out loud) auditory stimulus, reading helps develop their language skills and shows them how to communicate their own ideas – and how to listen to and understand other people’s ideas too.

6. Builds their vocabulary

By not only introducing a range of new words and concepts but also helping build an understanding of what words mean, reading is vital for a big vocabulary – which has often been linked directly with academic success.

7. Developing empathy

Empathy is a key part of emotional intelligence that’s closely linked to the imagination. It’s thought that exposing children to different characters, cultures and perspectives helps them imagine what it must be like to be that person or live in that place. A powerful tool for exercising a healthy imagination. 

See how reading develops empathy.


Get the best from your time reading time with Nooksy, including advanced childhood developmental features such as Nooksy Tips.

Explore more topics around childhood development and see how reading improves school readiness.

You might also be interested in…

See how even picture books develop literacy, learn how to select books for your child and get the lowdown on how to create a fun family reading routine.

Learn how reading increases attention span.

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