Health & Well-Being

Is Imagination Necessary Today?

Yes, and we can help our children develop that skill.

By Bill Wood

I had a long lunchtime conversation with a young mother today about her child’s imagination; about her daughter’s trouble with thinking outside the box. She asked me where I’d learned it when I was a child and that gave me pause.

We all remember when we were young and couldn’t wait to go outside and play. In conversations like these I always remember how much could be done with a simple broom handle. It could be a baseball bat, a horse for cowboys and Indians, a rifle for cops and robbers, a sword for Robin Hood and a walking stick for what we called “hikes” around the block. All from a simple broom handle.

Playing stickball with a broom handle

Of course in those days we didn’t have a computer, Google or You Tube to tell us what a broom handle was. And we didn’t have an Xbox or PlayStation to let us play with the broom handle with our friends across the street.

For example, at lunch today I remembered a park where we went to play softball one summer. My team was based at a community center a couple miles away from home. One afternoon we were loaded into cars and wound up at a park that seemed like another world away. Took us “a long time” to get to the park when, in reality, it was less than five blocks from where I lived. In those days adventure added to the development of imagination in this child’s mind. So, I guess, I developed my imagination through adventure among other things. That was part of getting out of the house and developing or discontinuing relationships. You learn people come and go in your life when you experience people coming or going while you’re growing up.

Today, however, it’s difficult to let a child go outside and play or experience adventure alone. Mistakes or misadventures could be costly today when they weren’t a couple generations ago. So how does imagination happen today? And, maybe the larger question: is imagination necessary today?

Online I found a good definition: “Imagination is the door to possibilities. It is where creativity, ingenuity, and thinking outside the box begin for child development. In early childhood education, critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving abilities are goals for children’s development.” Webster defines imagination as “the ability to form a picture in your mind of something that you have not seen or experienced; the ability to think of new things.”  Thinking of new things might be critical in social survival today!

My children have been adults for a long time. I haven’t had conversations with them about their imaginations and the development of their imaginations when they were children. But observing them I get a feeling that they have the ability to form a picture in their mind of something that they haven’t seen or experienced. In fact we’ve laughed about those experiences.

I’ve noticed that children growing up today tend to observe life instead of experiencing it or experiencing the adventure of life itself. Watching TV, even the fantasy and wonder in some television shows (including, even, educational programming) leaves them passively observing what’s out there. They don’t laugh at life. They laugh at people experiencing THEIR lives inside the wonder box television. It’s the same with movies or You Tube videos or, certainly, with the insanity of computer video games.

How do we bridge that gap? I wish I knew. I’d be a billionaire selling that solution to parents everywhere.  Here’s one article that offers some ideas.


But, curiously, reading the article could lead a parent or concerned adult down the same road of observing someone else working out the answers. There are, however, some good suggestions for developing a child’s imagination and development at the end of the article. One includes: “Remember to allow for down time.”

Creative expressing

Unstructured, unscheduled time allows children opportunities to imagine and create.” Or what if you asked a child to give life to that person in the image above. Who are they and where are they going? Where are they coming from? We used to call it day dreaming. But you might follow up that unstructured, unscheduled time with some questions about what the child was day dreaming about and why. 

Maybe the solution is getting a child a broom stick instead of another thousand dollar observation box and the WiFi that goes along with it.

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