In her post last month, Elizabeth Alsobrook mentioned that teachers bemoan the fact that kids don’t have imaginations or creativity any more. Instead of playing make-believe, they play video games. While I think there’s some truth to that, I also beg to differ. Many video games are imaginative. The player assumes a make-believe identity. They have to stretch their imagination to go on quests or use their wits to defeat the enemy. As with any games, television, or movies, a constant diet of them can dull the senses.
Having said that, I also think that parents don’t help their kids to use their imaginations to play make-believe. Remember when the best "toys" were boxes? Or when a blanket thrown over a table became a fort or a magical cave?
As many of you know, my son and his family stayed with us for two months this summer while they looked for a house. During that time, I spent a lot of time with their two-year-old. Once a day, we watched “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” inspired by “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.” (remember that show?) During the half-hour program on PBS, Daniel enters a make-believe land where he and his friends play make-believe. Toddler Girl avidly watched the show, nodding her head when Daniel asked if she wanted to play make-believe. In one episode, the children constructed a make-believe spaceship out of cardboard. When my older (7.5 and 10) grandchildren came over to play with their cousin, they found a good-size box I was going to throw out. Together, using scissors (the older kids), crayons, markers, and stickers, they built a spaceship. The older kids tugged the ship around the room as they “zoomed” to the stars and planets. Another time, Toddler Girl used a clothes basket for a boat and sang “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” (she only knows the first three words of the song) as she scooted across the floor.
Games like that exercise the imagination. But how do they get started? Reading. I always read to my children. Now that they are parents, they and their spouses read to their kids every night. When Hubs and I babysit, we read to them before bed, too—at least we did until they said they could read faster and asked us not to. LOL
It’s too easy to let the kids watch TV on their own, or play video games without input from the parents. If our children (as a whole) are lacking in imagination, it’s because they don’t know how. Encouraging them to play make-believe is essential before they start school. When Toddler Girl watches “Daniel Tiger” she sits on my lap. I talk to her during the episode, asking questions to keep her engaged. I did the same when the older grandkids were little.
One thing I did with the older ones that I can’t wait to play with TG is My StoryMaker, an online program from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. The kids write their own stories with avatars for characters, hints for goals, action, and conflict. I introduced the grandkids to it when the oldest was four. Eventually, the younger one wanted his turn. They told the story while I typed. Using the touch screen, they could add characters, scenery, tools and other items. Each time, I was blown away by their imaginations. The best part was we could print out the story for them to share with their parents.
While I agree that many kids today aren't given enough chances to play make-believe, parents or grandparents need to give them those opportunities. I’m fortunate that I’m retired and my grandkids all live close by. I have the time and patience I didn’t have as a young mother. For the ultra-busy parents of today, there must be a way to carve out a half hour to read and/or play make-believe. By doing so, we are feeding their imagination, which is as necessary as feeding their bodies.
If we as parents, aunts/uncles, grandparents don’t feed those imaginations, where will the future writers, artists, screenwriters, visionaries come from?