Can Daydreaming Make Kids Smarter?

Hi Folks! This missive comes to us from Del Shannon, a civil engineer who designs and constructs (and sometimes even deconstucts) dams around the world. When not damming, he has written award-winning essays and children’s stories. His first children’s book was the serialized novella The Map, published in several newspapers. Captain Disaster  is his second, a novel. Del lives with his family in Colorado and always seems to be daydreaming of Captain Disaster (which you can order here!). – L


In my biased and yet still humble opinion, I, along with my trusty sidekick Marty, saved the world no less than 472 times. From the first signs of trouble when we were eight, until I moved with my family to Oregon three years later, it was obvious to me and Marty that our home of Ellensburg, WA had somehow attracted the highest density of nefarious villains and paranormal beings in the world.

In our first week as a team, Marty and I broke up a Russian spy ring on Spokane Avenue, vanquished a coven of vampires that lived behind the screen at the drive-in movie, and, through special and ultra-top secret permission from the Justice League of America, used the amalgamated superpowers of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman, and the Atom to kill a gelatinous blob that lived in the irrigation ditch culvert that crossed Manitoba Avenue just north of the hospital.

While our antics exasperated our parents, not to mention the “Russian spies” that lived a few houses down the street, our heroics were never questioned because in everyone’s eyes we were doing exactly what two boys should be doing when faced with the deliciousness of three completely unencumbered summer months. We fell into our imaginary lives as easily as breathing.

Marty and I had no idea that our adventures were actually making us smarter. It may be a surprise to you as well, and yet recent research is pointing to just this as a natural outcome of daydreaming and possessing a wandering imagination.

Boosting Your Kid’s RAM 

A March 2012 study by Daniel Levinson and Richard Davidson published in the online journal Psychological Science, found a direct correlation between the amount of daydreaming a person does and their working memory capacity. In general terms, the higher an individual’s working memory capacity, the higher their reading comprehension, IQ score and other measures of intelligence. A simple analogy is the amount of random access memory (RAM) a computer has available, with the more RAM inside a computer translating to its increased efficiency and speed.

But it’s not all about intelligence, at least as defined above. Daydreaming also allows for different regions of the mind to subconsciously collaborate when looking at a problem. In a 2009 Psychology Today article about the benefits of daydreaming, Columbia University cognitive psychologist Malia Fox Mason reinforced this idea. “By allowing your mind the freedom to roam, the chances that you’re going to have an insight are much higher. It’s likely that you are going to recombine pieces of information in a novel way.”

Over-cram a Kid’s Day &  Stifle the Brain

What does all this research suggest? As a semi-retired superhero my own thoughts point in one simple direction. Collectively we’d best help our children by reopening the freedoms we have taken from them in the last 30 years because we are, quite literally, constraining their intelligence. From over-scheduling in the name of cramming as much knowledge as possible into their heads, to stifling their daydreaming and imagination by labeling it unproductive, our children aren’t being allowed the freedom to fully develop their intellectual abilities.

Providing our kids the time and freedom to daydream, explore and imagine on their own has been unnecessarily, and some would argue tragically, constrained. Instead of scolding children for staring off into the distance, seemingly in a daze, we actually should be encouraging them to do more of this…preferably while wearing a cape! – Del

The Captain himself!

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