The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. —Albert Einstein
About a month ago, my 10-year old granddaughter, H., came by for her Wednesday after-school visit. As often happens, we sat and talked for awhile, drew pictures, then spent some time playing outdoors. Later in the afternoon, H. became immersed in quiet yet active play in the living room, while I took the opportunity to catch up on my own things.
A day or so after this, I noticed that H. had moved several medium-sized rocks from where I had them in front of the living room fireplace, and had carefully set them up, along with the small figure of a dog, near the window seat (all things she has done before). I started to put these things back in order, but something about their specificity gave me pause. I realized that the dog was positioned to be looking at something a couple of feet away. When I stepped back to get the bigger picture, I was immediately drawn into an imaginal world. (Check out the photos above to see the key features of the scenario that H. had created, and below for those that she added just this week.)
I love playing with my grandchildren. I’m also delighted when I see them involved in their own imaginal play, especially when it reaches beyond the confines of toys and games, and into everyday spaces. I know that adults can support children in crossing the threshold into their inner world by providing a quiet space and making available some simple things, often from nature, that they can explore on their own. When a child can enter that make-believe realm, they discover a place belonging uniquely to them. Here, any found object can take on a new meaning.
This inner place is not at all a passive rethinking of something seen on a screen. Yes, it might begin with fantasy, but it soon becomes grounded in something else—an active, connected exploration of inner feelings, sensations, and symbols; a way to bring these into greater congruency. It seems to me that it’s this love of an inner sequencing (not necessarily in words) that helps children sort their feelings and explore their place in the world. And it’s this personal “narrative” that will surely call children into the world of reading. In this case, I immediately felt that what I was seeing was the very reason this kind of play is so valuable, and an example of how children love to invent and elaborate their own stories.
So I left the stones and animals there. Nothing happened for awhile and I didn’t think about them. And then this week—some four weeks later—I had the honor of seeing how this timeless saga was continued, as H. played for over an hour in that same location: Here’s a cradle of tiny chicks . . . a robin, sitting at the foot of a Griffin (or is this a mountain?) and carrying a frog on her back as she looks after the chicks. The grey cat has joined a dinosaur on top of the Griffin’s sunglasses—or is that a mountain ledge? And the dog continues to gaze calmly out over it all.
I have only a glimpse of the world H. was exploring, but can see its signs in this one by the way she uses language, expresses her feelings, coordinates her movement and centralizes her vision as she organizes her play, and in so many other ways. Although all these skills can be taught, as we do through the simple movements of Edu-K and Brain Gym®, it’s also wonderful to learn them first-hand through active explorations of the world around us. I’m confident that this inner world H. is building will continue to hold a motivating fire for reading, writing, and even learning itself. I trust you’ll enjoy the glimpse as I do.
Author’s note: My thoughts on imagination began to take root in a course I developed in 1986 called Visioncircles, where participants explore eight spheres of perceptual awareness, “Internalization” (symbolic representation) being the sixth. (I borrowed this idea of Internalization from psychologist Jean Piaget, who described Internalization as the last of the sensorimotor stage, where toddlers begin to think symbolically, solve motor problems, and use language.
For more about how imagination and symbolic representation contribute to literacy, see I Already Know How to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy, by Prisca Martens.
For more about the play state, see:
Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Stuart Brown and Christopher Vaughan, 2010;
Playing by Heart: The Vision and Practice of Belonging by O. Fred Donaldson, 1993;
and the classic, Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce, 1992.
© 2014 by Gail E. Dennison. All rights reserved.
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