August 6, 2013

Time and Opportunity

Have you ever watched or listened to your children play and wished you could see the inner workings of their brains? I feel that way often about my daughters, but recently I was even more curious than usual.

My 11-year old took quite a bit of time one day to carefully arrange many of her paper dolls on the kitchen table. Once they were set, I expected her to invite her sister to play with her or to begin acting out scenes on her own. But to my surprise she didn’t do either. Instead, she appeared merely to stare at the dolls, occasionally picking up one or another and moving it to a different location on the table.

I continued with my work around the house, but after more than an hour of this, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer and finally asked, “Are you going to play, Abigail, or are you just looking at them today?”

With a demure but confident smile, she answered, “I am playing. I’m imagining each doll’s dialogue in my head as they interact with each other. It’s really fun.”

On the one hand, that didn’t surprise me one bit; Abigail has always had a very active imagination. But on the other hand, it floored me to know she was creating complex scenarios­ all in her head.

And she’s not the only one who does it. In fact, I would daresay that most children can and do engage their imaginations – and picture-smart – in similar ways if given the time and opportunity.

But do we really provide either? Do we allow children to “make their own fun” with simple toys and supplies that stretch their imaginations? Do we grant them unstructured time that they must discover how to productively fill? Or do we, instead, program and plan their every waking minute and fill their rooms with toys that beep and buzz and talk at them, telling them what to think and feel?

There’s a place in each child’s life for organized activity. And it’s okay for kids to occasionally “be entertained” – via apps or websites or TV. But we make a serious mistake if we think that days overflowing with technology and scheduled “enrichment” will give our kids a leg-up in life. Children need to develop their imaginations and the other genius qualities in order to ultimately lead productive, fulfilled lives. So we need to do what it takes to build that into them from an early age. We need to give them the time and opportunity to create within their own heads. 


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