Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Learning to Be Imaginative

I confess it. I worry that my children aren't imaginative enough. Imagination doesn't seem to come naturally to them; it must be learned. Bookworm1, my oldest, doesn't seem to be naturally imaginative. If he talks to animals, it's because I showed him how it's done. (Grant it, now he has a host of toy animals, each with their own particular identity and agenda.) Whenever I do act something out in play, he doesn't naturally gravitate towards whatever it is I'm playing. In fact, usually he sits back with an incredulous look on his face and just laughs.

Bookworm2 doesn't seem to have much imagination either. Of course, being two years old, about the only thing he works on is getting everyone's attention all of the time - whether it be with good behavior or bad. As for Baby, well, it's too soon to say. I did show her how to put a baby to sleep once. I tucked a stuffed animal under a blanket and patted its back. She looked at me with a peculiar expression on her face and then laughed. I'm not sure what that means.

I don't remember having to be taught how to use my imagination. I just used it. The things I remember best about my childhood are the things I played. Blankets were transformed into princess dresses (huge skirts, you know!) I lived in covered wagons and was attacked by Indians on a regular basis whenever I played with one particular friend of mine. I walked in space. I owned a restaurant. I begged my father to repair a portion of a shrimp boat that had washed up on the seashore nearby where we lived so that I could use it as a raft and sail out in the bay. (He suggested it was no longer sea worthy. I don't know why. About three feet of it was still intact and it had a window which would have made it the perfect glass bottom boat!)

All that to say, it worries me when my kids don't seem to know what to do with themselves when it comes to imaginative play.

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it's a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life's realities. ~Theodore Geisel

People tell me that imagination will come to them, in time, and that they are in the developmental stages wherein it will somehow be produced. I trust these people. Really, I do. I'm quite sure that they are right because their kids are older than mine and they have the benefit of experience and hindsight to offer. Still, I work to foster imagination, not so that my children will use it to escape from reality but so that by it they will be able to view reality accurately. In play we learn to distinguish right from wrong, good from evil. Boy warriors slay dragons and rescue the damsel in distress. They learn about honor, valor and courage. They learn how to relate to one another and how to interact with the world around them.

Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten. ~G.K. Chesterton


You can't depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. ~ Mark Twain

One of the most notable things to me about successful entrepreneurs is their ability to imagine and think about things outside of the proverbial box. They ponder possibilities and aren't handicapped when they run into roadblocks. Creative and imaginative people are problem solvers. They do not sit about glumly proclaiming that they are bored or that there is 'nothing to do' because a whole wide world of possibilities is waiting for them from the moment their feet hit the ground in the morning until they fall asleep - exhausted - at night. Imagination feeds their soul and makes for a productive and satisfied human being. Anything is possible.

There are no rules of architecture for a castle in the clouds. ~G.K. Chesterton

As I look around today, I see an struggling economy and many people out of work. Jobs are hard to come by these days. It can make a person out of work become quite frustrated, quite easily. This is exactly a time in history though when men need imaginations. Creativity is an essential in order to find and enjoy satisfying work while providing for one's family. The future in this world is uncertain and I can't predict the struggles that our own children will face but I do know that a healthy imagination will take them quite far beyond whatever the struggles may be.

So while I do believe imagination will come (because I've been told it will!) I do not sit idly by and hope without assisting them in discovering who they are in their own minds. What do I do to foster this?

1. I read to them. Constantly. (It helps that this is my favorite thing to do.) Our house is positively filled with books. There are always books to be found at their fingertips so that they can explore as many fictionalized worlds that they like! To date, most of our reading material has been ye olde picture book. Bookworm1 and I are getting into chapter books and the older he gets, the more daring the tales I like to pick out. I'm starting to look for books which include great battles of good against evil and also books which deal with the topic of death. I don't mean to shock or scare him, but broaden his realities. (I actually think I may have been reading him the wrong sorts of books for too long and a correction needs to be made in our reading materials. I've played it safe in the reading world up to this time. I'm feeling like getting a little risky!)

2. I've instituted Play Time in random moments scattered throughout the day. I don't know about your kids, but mine would live by my side 24/7 if I allowed it. (This does admittedly get very old at times.) I discovered in the past month that I'm unable to tell them to go and play with each other and just expect them to naturally do it. They'd rather be with me. So during the month of January I've been saying things like, "You can choose. You two can either go play with each other for awhile, or you can help me clean the kitchen." This method tends to work like a charm. (Yesterday though my two year old opted to reorganize the bathroom cabinet with me instead of play with his brother. Go figure. The job did need to be done though and it turned out that his help was valuable.)

3. I sing random silly songs to them throughout the day. Occasionally this does get on Bookworm1's nerves but most of the time it makes him laugh. If I make up goofy rhymes, I'm hoping he'll learn to do so also. One must develop a sense of humor, you know! (And yes, my silly songs will include bathroom material from time to time. But this is ok for now since we're at the tail end of potty training #2.)

4. Every so often Daddy or Mommy will point out something that could be imagined. (i.e., "Look at this stick. You could use it for _______.") And hopefully at that point their imaginations will kick in and take over.

I'm discovering that learning to be imaginative is a process and it requires more intent than I ever thought possible! I still have many things to learn about how to foster this in my kids.

I also do confess that I'm the happiest mother alive when one of my children come up and tell me about something crazy and outlandish about themselves or their toys. In my opinion, an imaginative child is a healthy child. They will also make amazingly productive, interesting and incredible adults because they'll see things that the majority of us will never see unless we imagine with them!

I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. ~ Michelangelo


  1. Great post to officially "kick off" your new blog, Carrie. I'm a big lover of imagination, always have been since I was a kid. Even today I tend to drift off into imaginary worlds, though it might too often be to escape the drudgery of housework! :-)

  2. SIGH I love your new blog. I too believe in imagination, not only does it lend itself to our realistic dreams but it can also make our reality more fantastic! Imagination is that twist in our thinking that gives us wings for our life.

  3. Carrie, I think it's wonderful that you encourage their imagination so much. I have two completely different children. My son (the older child) has NO imagination. He's just not wired for it. He's very literal, concrete and real-world. He loves data and numbers, so I hope he will be able to contribute to society in a meaningful way without creativity. My daughter is very imaginative--it comes naturally to her. I probably haven't been the best in this regard for either of them because my husband and I are much more like our son than our daughter. With that being said, I was still able to entertain myself as a child. Whether it was with a book, playing with friends, or riding my bike around the neighborhood, I could always find something to do, but it rarely included imagination unless friends added that to the mix (and I have found this works for my son as well--he follows along with his friends' imaginative ideas and enjoys them, even if he is not the mastermind). I need to do better about encouraging this. Sometimes it's good for those of us who are too real-world/literal to escape to fantasyland (maybe that's why I love Disney World so much)!

  4. Great thoughts about the imagination. On Monday I had pointed out to my husband how our oldest ds had a great imagination when he was little and how now our 3 yr. old dd is the same way. My two middle children really didn't do a lot of imaginative play. I read a lot more to my three younger children than the oldest, so I don't think it is the reading, though that can only help. What I wonder if it has more to do that my oldest(4 yr age span) and youngest (6 yr age span)didn't have anyone close to them to play with, thus they spent more time playing by themselves and acquired the skill.

    I wonder if you tried a little playtime by themselves if that would get their imagination brewing. I know this is easier said than done!

    Cultivating the imagination now while they are young is a great thing, because the older kids get it seems harder to retain due to all the technology that surrounds us.

  5. After I posted, I thought of a book that I have seen circulating around online called Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child by Anthony Esolen. I started it but had to return it to the library, so I've been waiting to get my own copy. Here is a review of it.

  6. M has just started imagining. (Last night mice were crawling all over her room. ;) I wonder if this has anything to do with the cd of the Nutcracker that she got for Christmas?)

    Because she imagines and plays it out I see our son doing the same thing...but only a little, almost always in a copied form. M also copies a lot, but often from books and movies.

    Love your thoughts and how you are encouraging them.

  7. Loved reading about how you're encouraging imagination!

    We are almost the opposite in our house. Though I was a huge reader as a child, and certainly engaged in some imaginative play, my kids are WAY more imaginative than I ever was. I'm not sure how we turned out two such imaginative boys -- maybe a combination of personality and lots of "alone time" playing over the years. I watch my 13-year-old and how his imagination has changed (and lessened?) as he's gotten older. Perhaps not lessened, but is just applied and employed differently now. But still, very interesting to watch as he grow.

  8. It must be interesting being a mother. I never knew this was a thing to worry about. But my dad always says that worrying is part of the job description for a mom.
    If it gives you any hope, I think perhaps my mom would say the same about me: That imagination didn't come naturally. Of course, she also calls me the least romantic of all her children, so this tendency may have never completely gone away.
    I'm sure with such creativity in the home, your Bookworms have a good fighting chance!

    I love this new blog by the way. I've wanted to say that, but my computer (it was mine not yours) just NOW figured out its blog comment issues.

  9. Once your oldest gets into imaginative play he will naturally draw the rest of them into his games. In a couple of years they'll spend hours playing with you nowhere in sight. :)

    Imaginative play takes on many different forms. The best example is my 2 big boys (7 & 8 yrs). They both love LEGOs and we have a good sized tub full of them. But their approach to LEGO play is totally different. The 8 yr old wants to build a LEGO kit once and then play with it as that item. In our house that's usually a Star Wars craft of some sort. If it were up to him, the toy would never be broken apart. My 7 yr old wants to build it once with the directions, play with it as the space craft for a while, and then tear it apart. Later he rebuilds it, sometimes with directions and sometimes without.

    So which is creative and using his imagination? The one who takes the LEGO space ship, flies it around the room and dreams up battles? Or the one who creates new space ships over and over?

    I think they are BOTH creative and imaginative. It just comes out in different ways. I bet your kids are far more imaginative than you realize. And one day they'll say, "I don't remember someone having to teach me how to play." :)