The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections
By Amanda Blake Soule
Living a creative life is all about using our imagination. Like so many other things, imagination is hardly something we need to "give" our children, for it is simply a part of who they are. However, we do need not only to support and encourage the growth, stretching, and development of their imaginations, but to model the use of our own. While building a castle out of blocks or reading a story from a book comes rather easily to most adults, the imaginative play is often challenging for us to connect with. It is more difficult for our adult minds to dive into the latest character role that our little ones might assign us. But that challenge is certainly one we can rise to-and with great benefit to all. Once we do find ourselves in the midst of imaginative play with our children, we find that all the worries and cares of our adult minds are replaced by fun. Surely this is a skill that we could all improve on. Imaginative living needn't and shouldn't be limited to childhood, and it is our job to tell our children through our actions chat their imaginations are something they can use, rely on, and find comfort in throughout their lives. It is through their strong sense of imagination that they will find solutions to life's puzzles and problems, create art in all its forms, and comfort themselves and those around them.
The activities in this chapter are all about imagination in childhood. They are about the ways in which we can encourage the skills of storytelling and imaginative play that can last a lifetime, as well as ways we can find to join in the fun.
Weaving a Story
Dunk is a friend of ours who lives alone in a house without his parents. He drives a big red pickup truck, and his little dog named Dot (a black dog with black spots) rides in the back. Earlier this year, we had a grand birthday party for Dunk's fourth birthday. A week later, we celebrated his third birthday. Dunk prefers chocolate, but in a pinch, he'll happily eat all of Ezras broccoli.
Jo Jo Spirit loves clowns. In fact, sometimes Jo Jo Spirit is a clown himself. He can switch back and forth between being a clown and being a "regular" person with just the flip of a switch on his back-which is a trait we'd all like to have, isn't it? Jo Jo Spirit likes to play with blocks, a kind that you or I can't see or feel. His magic-ability is that he can touch a lightbulb without getting burned.
Yes, Dunk and Jo Jo Spirit are both "special" friends to my children. Or as some might say, they are their imaginary friends. Each character appeared somewhere around the time Calvin and Ezra were each two and stayed with us for a few years, sometimes having more of a presence than other times. It astonishes me that imaginary friends used to be a source of concern to parents and medical professionals alike and were thought to represent immature thinking. Thankfully, the cultural perception of imaginary friends has changed in recent years, as most parents and professionals now recognize them for the benefits they provide children. Its now accepted that children can use imaginary friends to work out relationship issues, to work on conflict resolution, and to practice friendships. Not only can imaginary friends offer entertainment and companionship for children, but by nature, they also act as great exercises in creative expression. Frankly, each time that an imaginary friend has appeared in our home. I've been thrilled by their appearance as a sign of a healthy, thriving imagination and creative mind. To break it down to the truth of the matter, it's fun to have these special guests.
I encourage you to think about imaginary friends as a form of creative play and expression. If you should be so lucky as to have one appear in your family. I encourage you to let your child lead the plot of the story, and honor, welcome, and play with it yourself. Sometimes that means setting an extra place at the table for our friend; buckling them into the car seat; or in a moment of boredom, inviting the play by asking. "Shall we play Dunk and Dot?" just as we would ask. "Would you like to paint?"
Imaginary friend play is just one example of a way to create stories. Playing with dolls, puppets, and other toys are equally excellent opportunities for honing your creative storytelling skills as a family. Let your young children play with the lines of reality and imagination to figure out what the line is themselves, and explore the reaches of their young, developing, creative minds. Oh, the stories they'll tell!