What’s wrong with having imaginary friends? Or dreaming about taking a rocket ship to the moon? Or pretending to be a famous quarterback like Tom Brady or an incredible tennis player like Serena Williams? Absolutely nothing. Childhood imagination is limitless, and it is a place for exploration, learning, growing and expanding. It is also a safe place because it exists inside a child’s head, so no one can take it, destroy it or change it. It’s a natural super power.
But is imagination being fostered enough these days, or has it taken a back burner to organized activities, sports and technology? We all see more and more very young children using their parents’ iPhones and iPads for entertainment, and older children watching television and playing computer games– Is ready-made entertainment replacing imaginative play and good old messy creativity? In a high-tech world with new and exciting apps and devices appearing daily, what chance do blocks and paint sets have?
A big issue is that many children are over-scheduled, and this has a devastating effect on imagination. I once witnessed two young mothers attempting to arrange a play-date for their two children. “No, Tuesday won’t work; Janie has a piano lesson that afternoon,” said one of the mothers. “Wednesday, Sally has soccer and then her art lessons, said the other mother. And so it went where both children were so over-programmed that it was impossible to find a common date.
When children are rushed off to organized activities after school, it leaves little time for down time and play. Sports, drum lessons and dance classes are fun and can be creative, but who is doing the creating? The coach or instructor is because they are teaching a skill with their goals in mind. Unless an art class involves free style, or a writing class involves creative writing and free writes, many of these activities are just another time spent passively learning and producing designs and concepts that the instructor has taught in class. These so-called athletic and creative arts classes are not fostering imagination and creativity, but taking away time for that to happen.
Have you ever looked around in your neighborhood after school? Children are generally not engaging in genuine, unorganized play. We see them in soccer uniforms, martial arts attire, and ballet costumes, but not in regular play cloths just creating their own play, inventing games, and creating their own rules. How will they learn to solve future problems or handle social situations on their own? Imagination and creativity must be fostered and set as a priority, or children will be missing out on key social interactions and imaginative play which will help them succeed in life, and make them more interesting and exciting people. I say, let the children play!!
I do believe there is hope. I think that “imagination stations” remain an integral part of early childhood education. Legos stations, imaginative play like dress up and puppet shows, and dramatic play like dancing, singing and inventing, are all vital areas where children can naturally stretch the boundaries of their imaginations. And outside of school, imagination can happen anywhere. In the yard, sitting in a car seat, or in a child’s bedroom. Children can dream and fantasize– or even create their own worlds and friends. Imaginary friends are safe friends because they are controlled by the child, and they are a great way for children to “practice” socialization, confrontation and cooperation. Best yet, they provide unconditional love for the child, and they are reliable and always ready for adventure! We’d all love to have friends like this!
I wrote my picture book about a child learning to use the power of imagination in the hopes that it will spark creativity and imagination in child readers. I want children to be aware of their own Super Power—and know it is available and waiting for them. All they need is to do is take a quick break from their tablets, have daily time set aside for play, and BAM! They can let their imaginations soar!