Imaginative story telling has always been a huge part of my life – as you’d imagine!
When I was growing up my dad would tell my brother and I stories about ‘Ratty’ our stuffed animal Rat – which sound effects included.
My granddad would often tell me stories of Leprechauns, and Fin McCool the Irish Giant, and all kinds of other things.
My favourite past time was inventing stories that I would play either with my stuffed animals or act out with my friends at home and at school and in the garden.
In fact, most rainy lunch times at school, my best friend and I, Marisa, would perform plays and shows for our peers in the auditorium sometimes with shadow puppets.
My mum would read aloud to my brother and I and I’d have to think up my own picture of what something looked like.
Although, thinking about it now, I was raised in a golden age. An age where you didn’t necessarily have all the answers to all of your questions.
I mean, we watched Home Improvement and genuinely wondered what Wilson’s face looked like because we didn’t really have the internet to see for ourselves.
We didn’t have the plethora of games and applications presenting our entertainment as something to be engaged with not imagined. Overwhelming all our headspace so we didn’t actually need to think up anything new.
After all, why think of something new when we live in this buffet of entertainment anyway?
It is for this reason, I think that generally I have two kinds of students:
Those who imagine new things, and those who list me things from games and shows they have watched and I am starting to see a pattern where it is necessary to actively engage children to use their imaginations.
I was reflecting on this the other day as I was typing up some students work, and there really is this massive difference between children who have this amazing sense of imagination.
A spirit of exploration in their own ideas, and testing our ideas they have seen or heard and making them their own – as I have heard it said that creativity is just pirating other people’s ideas (using them and make them their own.)
Then I have other students who parrot ‘How to Train Your Dragon.’ or list characters from Minecraft rather than inventing their own concepts.
I was watching ‘Back in Time for the Weekend’ with my husband recently, and it was amazing to see how time progressed and children became more and more insular. Activating their imaginations became unnecessary and instead their entertainment and fun was gifted to them. Now days children’s play time has been rendered to a screen held inches from their face, constantly sitting head down.
It is actually pretty tragic that they don’t have a need to imagine for themselves, so they don’t. Especially when I think about how much my imagination shaped who I am today and I hate the idea of children being robbed of that some formative experience.
Now I’m not sharing this to cast a shadow on the rise of technology at the expense of imagination, or to say how much better things were in the ‘olden days.’ Because that’s not what it is about.
I still meet children today who are brilliant, and have a sense of wonder and exploration to imagine ideas of their own, BUT I can promise you they come from homes where this is probably prioritised FOR them.
Where they were encouraged to seek for themselves, and discover, and engage, and where being baby sat by a TV or given an iPad (or their mum’s phone) as a pacifier was never an option.
Don’t get me wrong, technology is good, and it can be an excellent tool, but this is what we need to see it as. A tool, not a toy. In that way we need to protect our children they are at their most formative, and allow them to forge their own desires for wonder and story telling and imagination.
Rather than googling the answer to a question, undertake an investigation, wonder why, rather than typing it into a search bar. Getting the answer is just one part of the process of wondering, so allow kids to wonder first.
Value things that aren’t ready made entertainment. I used to get countless sets of pom poms and pipe cleaners and googly eyes for my Christmas and birthday presents.
Books rather than shows or games.
Encourage the possibility of invention. For kids to create things of their own, design animals, their own Pokémon, their own cities, towns, (I can’t explain how much fun it was to draw my own maps and imagine worlds of my own) get them to invent their own board games (this is actually really fun!)
Allow children to have things that are ENTIRELY toy rather than technology. Sure getting to play video games and games on iPads isn’t bad, but it is bad when it is the default method of play and I think that’s what I’m getting at here.
We need imagination to become our children’s default method of play.
I had Barbies, and HEAPS of stuffed animals (and actually these stuffed animals are what inspired me into writing) and my friends and I would have to draw on our own imaginations to invent problems and scenarios, and stretched the bounds of what we knew to invent our own realities.
After all, it is this spirit of wonder and imagination and invention that will really further the world we live in, not children regurgitating things from games and shows because that they don’t actually know how brilliantly useful and amazing their own thoughts can be.
Now that we’ve got that covered… can someone buy me one of these!?!?!