Fostering creativity and imagination

A few weeks ago, I saw a man with his two young grandkids walking next to a flowing creek in the woods. The children held their nets in great anticipation as they eagerly scrambled over logs looking for tadpoles. It was such a perfect picture of the delight and joy of childhood, and I drank in the sight. . .until the grandfather barked, “There’s nothing there. Let’s go.”

It’s so common in our hurry-hurry grown-up world to blast right past our children’s curiosity and play, isn’t it? In our greater knowledge of the world, we inform them, “That will never work,” “No such thing exists,” “That’s a waste of time.”

And, in that moment, our kids lose a bit of their curiosity and wide-eyed wonder at the world.

Instead of saying, “There’s nothing there,” what might have happened if the grandfather had announced, “I’m going to sit on this log until you find some tadpoles”? Well, let’s play out two scenarios:

In the first scenario, these kids have not lost their childlike hope that someday they will actually find tadpoles. And, their grandfather has welcomed their innocent exploration of the creek (even though he’s never noticed tadpoles in that location before).

In the second scenario, the children had the time and space to move from disappointment at finding no tadpoles to imagining their part in a miraculous story. How they might enthusiastically tell their grandfather all about it—if he is willing to listen with openness and appreciation!

children need to play, pretend, and discoverAs homeschoolers, I think that we would be far more comfortable with finding a curriculum that promised to help our kids “grow in creative and imaginative skill” because we can schedule that, put it in our lesson planner, and check it off of our to-do list.

It’s much messier—and takes more time—to allow this to happen naturally since it requires freedom for our kids to play and pretend and discover. But these are all essential elements for fostering the creativity and imagination that is deeply woven into every child.

Is it worth the fuss and bother? One very successful homeschooled kid evidently thought so:

“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.” Thomas A. Edison