Imagination is something that should be encouraged and celebrated in the lives of our children. In an article posted on The Telegraph website, According to child psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology and author of The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, the importance of imagination in all areas of child development cannot be overstated. “This kind of play allows children to tap into their creativity and really run with it, without any boundaries, in a way that’s very freeing,” she says. (see link here)
Charlie Chaplin, known for his amazing career in film during the first half of the 20th century, especially silent film, had one of the most difficult childhoods that I have ever read about. Plagued with poverty, malnutrition, abandonment, and a mother with serious mental health issues, it was his imagination that was his escape or coping mechanism. It was his imagination that allowed him to survive, both physically and emotionally. Whether it was becoming a character in a performance, or pretending to be someone else, he was able to transform the world around him from what appears to be a living hell, into a place that was eventually conquered by his creativity.
Kids need to pretend. They need to imagine possibilities, explore their minds, and develop a situation of expression, coping, and problem-solving. One of the masters at creating these opportunities was a part of my life daily, although I never met him…Mr. Rogers. Imagination took away limits from all children and placed them on common ground regardless of their physical abilities or monetary resources. He would create a scenario and ask kids to imagine. Make-believe was a place to visit. It could be safe and controllable by those that ventured there. He was truly an artist of his craft.
As the youngest child and only boy in my family, I found myself alone many times in my childhood. I was 8 years younger than my closest sibling by age. By no means was I mistreated, but the sheer difference in age and development placed me in a different situation. I was alone in my head, but never lonely. I would pretend, play, tell stories (according to my family), and go to places that were completely my own. I was in control, unlimited, and free. I had characters of interaction and make-believe talents that propelled me to the top of all existence.
According to my recollection, my world of make-believe made me a professional wrestler with a huge pillow on my parent’s enormous bed. I would fly off the “top rope” and crush my opponent. I would take on dragons and bad guys with my imaginary weapons. I would transform simple objects into tools. A stick would be my gun. A tennis racket would be my guitar. When I was introduced to my addiction to music, I would perform whole concerts listening to live recordings. The crowd was cheering me. I played my tennis racket in front of the mirror, but what I saw were the stage and the crowd.
As I became a dad, seeing my children use their imagination was amazing. I would try not to be seen by them as I would watch them completely immersed in free play. One particular instance was seeing my daughter outside in a dress dancing to no music. She was somewhere else. She had complete joy beaming from her eyes. I didn’t want the moment to end. Other times she would have conversations of instruction with her dolls. She would teach them to write, read, and use manners. This was invaluable. Today, she is such a problem solver. She is brave and creative. I’m so thankful for her.
My middle child, a boy was all about adventure, outdoors, discovery, climbing, and nature. It was more difficult to see into his mind, but he had such an amazing and positive effect on others. His level of compassion for the weak was unmatched by anyone I have ever met. As strong as he was/is, he maintained a gentle nature about him that drew others and animals to him. He could be so patient. His mind would be an amazing movie to watch.
My oldest is a musician like myself. As a baby, he would sit in his bouncy seat in front of the cd player and would listen to entire albums. He didn’t want kid/baby songs. He wanted to rock and roll. He would bounce and jump for an hour if we let him. As he grew he got the toy guitars and had his own make-believe concerts. Eventually, this blossomed into real music and is now one of the best musicians I have ever heard.
Encourage your kids to make-believe. Roleplay with them if they seek you out. Listen to their made-up stories. Ask them questions. Be a part of a crucial development in the lives of your kids. Be the best dad possible.