Friday, June 27, 2008

Inside the Mind of a Child

Isn't it amazing what kind of imaginations our children have? Yesterday I was driving with my boys in the car when I heard one in the backseat say to the other, "Take the wheel." They had pulled down the armrest in the middle of the seat, and one of them had their hand stuck in the cup holder. That was their "wheel". Nicky had to adjust the toys around him, so Joel stuck his hand in the cup holder and Nicky removed his hand so he had two to work with. When he was done, Nicky stuck his hand back in the cup holder, Joel removed his, and they kept playing. I believe they said they were flying a plane. I love watching my boys play together. It's so funny to hear them map out what's going to happen in their play and then act it out.
Nicky, my eight-year-old, is especially good with imagination. We figured this out when he started playing with imaginary friends. That's right, friends as in more than one. He had Lar and Bo and Beth and the dog, Doofus or Rufus (I can't remember which). They showed up in a lot of his play for a while. (Parenting tip: even the imaginary friends had to obey our rules. When Lar started "wanting to do bad things", we told Nicky Lar wasn't welcome in our home anymore. Later Lar came back and apologized.) I guess it's small wonder our kids have imagination since my husband Terry and I have such great ones too.
But back to kids' imaginations in general. I believe they don't need to be entertained every minute of every day. Once parents start in the role of Entertainment Director, the kids come to expect you to entertain them all the time. If we step back and merely set ground rules, they entertain themselves so much better. Our ground rules include the fact that there's no TV or video games until after supper. This is especially important during the summer months when they could be glued to the electronic screens day in and day out. Instead they ride their bikes, go fishing out back in the pond, play at the park. They also get involved with their older brother in projects such as washing cars or cleaning out the garage. They spend more time working on guitars and on the piano.
What kind of imagination did you have when you were a kid? For us it was "Red Skull". He was the evil bad guy that appeared in almost everything we did. We had to be careful not look directly at this imaginary character because he was radioactive (like we even knew what that meant!), but we had some great adventures across the backyard, up on the porch and even in the basement. My sisters and I would also play with our Barbies, turning my mom's bookcases into split-level homes, apartments and office buildings as needed. Those were the days!
I don't play imaginary things anymore now that I'm all grown up. Or maybe I do. I write suspense fiction. My imaginary characters are very real to me, and I'm always dreaming up new scenarios for them. Danger lurks on every corner and if they don't manage to outsmart the rebels, then ... okay, so maybe I play more than I realized. Only now I call it plotting instead of playing, and I hope to make a living at it. See what can happen if you let your children use their imaginations?

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