STIMULATE YOUR CHILD’S IMAGINATION
By Garry Cleveland Myers, Ph.D.
The great men and women of the world have had remarkable imaginations. They were able to see and hear and feel what was not before their eyes, ears and hands. Their richness of imagination at two, three or four continued all their lives. They kept on creating. Keen and fertile imaginations, organized toward very definite ends, marked them off from the multitude of other men.
Parents should try to appreciate the preschool child’s imagination by listening enjoyably to his yarns of fantasy and make-believe, not supposing he was lying when for him his utterances and actions never had been nearer to the truth; by taking down his imagined yarns and reading them back to him; by walking hand in hand with him into his enchanted land with its dwarfs and fairies; by filling up his little head with lots of folklore and fairy tales; by appreciating his crudest drawings and paintings, constructions and inventions and by helping him to keep on creating with words, color, lines and things.
Parents need not fear that the little child might confuse facts with fantasies, if these parents exercise enough imagination themselves and help this child to enjoy simple normal play with other children of his own age and to make real things with his hands.
What every parent needs most to fear is that she or he might hamper the child’s imagination and cause it to atrophy as the child grows older.
The home can be the most fertile training ground for cultivating the child’s imagination; and the period when his imagination is most active, as a rule, is between the ages of two and five or six. Faced more and more with the hard, cold facts of reality as he grows still older, he can easily be hampered and discouraged at creating freely.
As he plays at five or six or even older with one or two children at making mud pies or building small playhouses or at make-believe with dolls or puppets or dramatizes a family, or school, he may employ much creative imagination and cause one or more playmates to participate in this make-believe. Even in very exciting outdoor fun with several other children, playing soldiers or cops and robbers, considerable imagination may be going on. But in the usual games of chase and rough-and-tumble of the playground not much imagination may be operating; and less so as the child engages in organised games, though these of course are very desirable.
On entering school, opportunities for the average child for imagining tend to lessen. Of course a child who had often created much at drawing, painting, modeling with clay, building with blocks, or had fun at make-believe at home may find many opportunities in the kindergarten to go on doing so even more and more. He may lead off at building there, for example, a construction large enough for him to stand up in; and if other children there imitate him and cooperate with him, his creating may be stimulated. But not all those children who imitate him and help him may have like stimulation. As his whole class or part of them skip or dance to music, some of them may do a lot of individual creating, though many others will be merely imitating or conforming. Often the teacher of the kindergarten or primary grades easily supposes most of her children are imagining a great deal when only a few them may be doing so. The very presence of so many children together makes it difficult for the most skillful teacher to keep firing the imagination of nearly all the children most of the time. She does cultivate imagination in some children who freely draw and paint and model with clay or make things of their choice from paper, cardboard and the like.
Inevitably there arise difficulties from helping the child on the essential skills, and with a whole classroom of pupils, the teacher can’t always dwell on individual interests and aptitudes. Some group instruction of necessity is inevitable. With equal skill how much easier it is for a parent to stimulate the child’s creative imagination at home; and she has him there before he begins school at the very time his imagination is most active.
One thing the teacher in the kindergarten and elementary grades can do for stimulating the imagination of practically all her children together is to read stories of strong imaginative appeal to them. And such practice is growing even upward in the grades. In his own way each listening child can create while he listens. He will do so more surely and more vividly if he had been an eager listener to stories read to him at home. Almost any parent may have advantage while reading to the child even of school age at home over any teacher reading to a large group of children at school. The experience can be more personal, and the child being read to at home may easily look at the illustrations in the book.
Of course the child reading from his primer or first or higher grade reader at school may get some stimulation of imagination from its pages. But unfortunately most of the modern primers and school readers have chiefly here-and-now content. School readers rich in folklore and fairy tale types of stories are relatively rare, though they are slowly coming back. In contrast, books which parents and baby-sitters read to children at home are usually pretty rich in imaginative appeal.
Parents rarely realise their opportunities to stimulate the imaginations of their children. How wonderful when both parents and teachers conspire to fire and cultivate imagination in their children and pupils.
Through good books the school and home can stimulate the child’s imagination wholesomely as they help him choose them and want to read them. Children who grow up in homes where parents are constant readers of good books are more prone to read many good books than are children growing up in homes where parents rarely read from such books, or read at all. Reading in the family tends to grow contagious. As a rule, those books which cause the reader to put himself into the place of the leading characters stimulate imagination most; and when these characters represent the qualities we would like the child to emulate, they would seem to be most wholesome in their effect on his ideals and behaviour. Fortunately modern textbooks in history, biography and science and other factual content, tend to be growing in their appeal to the imagination. And many teachers are able to fire the imagination of the pupils in practically every course, even in such subjects as mathematics and foreign languages.
After all, most of the child’s study at school, especially beyond the second or third grade, consists in dealing with what is not before him. His geography and history are almost wholly made up of what is absent. He is dealing with persons and things which he does not see. We, with him, just imagine how the people of a particular time or place appeared, what they did; and, insofar as we can put ourselves in their places, we imagine how they felt. How is it possible? Naturally our own experiences are enlarged upon by experiences of others, which in turn have been amplified by books, pictures, objects, symbols, and other things. Out of these materials we construct in our minds all those absent things.
The more knowledge and experience a teacher or parent has related to any subject which comes up for discussion or conversation, the more he has to draw upon. Yet to do so is an art which usually needs to be cultivated. In order to keep cultivating the imagination of growing children, we parents not only need to strive to enrich our own wisdom and experiences but also to use lots of imagination in recalling and relating them.
Perhaps it is in dramatics where the school may usually have an advantage over the home for cultivating creative imagination. To dramatize well, there must be a number of children to participate and make an appreciative audience. Wise and skilful parents supplement the school’s contributions through dramatics by their enthusiastic appreciation of the school’s efforts, by listening as the child reports of such, and by helping him at home in making costumes and units of scenery.
Puppets which parents help children make and operate at home can prove of high dramatic value; and much more so when these puppets are also used at school. Too, some parents stimulate and encourage their children at home together with a few playmates to improvise and put on a dramatic show, circus and the like in the house, backyard, or garage, open to attendance by parents and other children plays of the neighbourhood. Nor should we forget that when a child alone or with two or three children plays for long periods at make-believe with dolls or other playthings or improvises scenes with his teacher, he’s creating dramatically. With your own vivid imagination, you could add richly to the foregoing illustration.
Some may say that the child at home gets strong stimulation of imagination, even long before he enters school, from TV viewing. He does get some, of course, especially from the few good programs including those in which the young listeners are induced to make things with their hands. So may he and the older child have his imagination fired by the many programs of violence which capture his attention. But the latter hardly would prepare him for verbal creations useful to him later, unless perhaps he were going by and by to write such stories of violence as those he so often views. Besides, not many parents would wish their children to dream by night or day similar incidents of violence.
On TV are also some great programs of drama, music, science, real adventures, history and current happenings over the world which approach the ideal for wholesome stimulation of imagination. Parents who constantly view such programs set the stage well for their children of the upper grades and high school do likewise.
After the child begins to write compositions at school, he needs to use imagination freely; even when he writes letters to his friends. How stilted some of his letters are; how wanting in imagination most of his written compositions. Indeed the child’s verbal creations at four or five are much more picturesque and vivid than are those he writes himself in the third grade or later. When he creates yarns at four, his whole attention is on what he is telling. When he writes a composition at nine or twelve, his attention is dispersed. He has to worry about spelling, capitalization, punctuation. These are skills he must get, of course. A big problem is to help him get them without unduly hampering his creation. The teacher’s temptation is to put more emphasis on the mechanical skills than on the creativeness of expression. Some teachers partially solve this problem by having the child at school write down his ideas with little or no thought of the mechanics, after which the creative content only is evaluated. Then this is followed by rewriting it in proper form.
A parent may stimulate the child at home preparing a composition for school by having him dictate to her his story or article as she takes it down for him, exactly as he gives it. Having done so, the parent should write a signed note on the paper stating what part she had in it.
Wise would the teacher be to encourage this kind of home help. Wiser still would she be not to grade at school the child’s compositions written at home. Then how very valuable the parent’s help at home could be.
When we plan, we use imagination. We are dealing with what is not immediately present. We are creating. And the more success we have at carrying our plans through, the more ready we are to plan well again. This is also true for our children.
Our children growing up with us discover how well we are able to put ourselves in their places and other person’s places through our imagination. They see how well we understand them and other persons. In this way our children learn by precept and example to appreciate other persons and their ways which are different. Good imagination is therefore the basis for tolerance and brotherhood.
Furthermore, good imagination helps us become more interesting persons not only to our children but to other persons also. Blessed is the child whose parents and teachers have the gift of imagination.