Studies have shown over and over the benefits of music art and other creative endeavors on the development of children. Companies such as the Baby Einstein empire and many others have capitalized on this research, but how can parents utilize these study findings without breaking the bank?

Our increasingly busy lifestyles and overprogramming of children have decreased their opportunity for free play and self expression. "Parents who have the opportunity to glimpse into their children’s world learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance. Less verbal children may be able to express their views, experiences, and even frustrations through play, allowing their parents an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of their perspective," according to the "Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds," by Kenneth R. Ginsburg.

Following are 10 ideas to stimulate your child's imagination and promote healthy development.

1. Dance your feelings. Young children often have difficulty communicating their feelings due to their smaller vocabularies and inexperience with new emotions. By encouraging children to dance and move to music we can look for clues to how they feel and help them name the emotions for future use. "Through dance, emotions are accessed and then released through expressive movement and a positive transformation takes place within, facilitating the overall well being of the child," says Dr. Lori Baudino of the dance and music therapy program at UCLA.

2. Make your own modeling dough. Have your child participate in making the dough as much as the child's abilities allow. Encouraging your child to make something that then becomes a toy teaches the child to look around and to use imagination to create a new toy.

3. Make up new words to a favorite song. Children are natural musicians. When encouraged to make up words to their favorite songs, children give you a window to their thoughts. Valentina, a 3-year-old resident of West Valley City, says, "I like to sing songs, like bag songs. I like purple bags. (breaks into song) purple bags and birds eat at the crabby patty, but what are you gonna do?"

4. Make macaroni art. Children love gluing and creating with any small, easy-to-handle objects. Shaped pasta noodles help develop understanding of spatial relationships and introduces geometry.

5. Make your own ink blots. Besides being good for therapy, ink blots help us to look for the familiar in the unfamiliar, developing adaptation skills.

6. Act out a fairy tale. When children use their imaginations, they can work through many things, says Carol Bouzoukis, author of "Encouraging Your Child's Imagination: A Guide and Stories for Play Acting" (Rowman & Littlefield). "It can be therapeutic, they can work out scenarios. They act that through and find resolution, even if only in play.

"That can help them later. On the bus maybe there's a bully, and if they just did a play where they're running from the wolf and it resolves itself happily, the bully might not seem so bad. Children can gain a mastery of their world through their play," she said.

7. Collect items from nature. Use these to make dioramas, leaf rubbings or pressed flowers. Children can also draw pictures of the plants and animals they see in a nature journal.

8. Make up stories about people and animals you see. Not only can this be a lot of fun for parents and kids alike, but it also fosters empathy for others.

9. Have an art show. If your child builds a tower out of your pots and pans, paints a picture with shaving cream or dresses in a unique outfit, take a picture. Every few months, display these pictures for friends and family. If you do not have a home for entertaining, you can start a blog for your child to share his or her creations with a possible explanation of how they were inspired.

10. Relax and enjoy the process. Taylorsville Elemetary teacher Alisa Mulder emphasizes the importance of enjoying the process and not focusing on the product. "Children who enjoy the act of trying something new and who are not worried about getting it exactly right the first time are able to find joy in learning and adapt very quickly to kindergarten."

Heidi Galieti is a freelance editor and book reviewer specializing in the fantasy and science fiction genres.