Four-year-old Kenny was restless. We had been for a walk, had played “I see something and other games,” but he was tired. We sat down on the grass, still waiting for his ride.
“How about if I tell you a story?” I suggested.
“Okay. Give me your cell phone?” he said.
“No, the story’s not on the cell phone. I’m going to make it up in my head.”
“Where are the pictures, though?” he asked.
“In your head. I’ll see the pictures in my imagination and I will describe them to you and you will see them in your imagination.”
“Where? Where will I see the pictures?”
“In your head. Let’s just try it. Once upon a time….”
I told him a story of a four-year-old boy dressed in a red T-shirt and jeans, with a hole in one knee. He frowned down at the scuffed knees of his own jeans. No hole.
My fictional boy went for a walk. He found a squirrel skeleton under a tree. He didn’t want to put it in his pocket, so he left it where it was.
As he listened, Kenny rolled his eyes, looking around, but he didn’t focus on anything.
“The little boy saw a flag pole with no flag. He thought about trying to climb the pole.”
Kenny smiled and looked into the sky, imagining the nonexistent flagpole.
Until that afternoon, I did not realize today’s children, bombarded with electronic screens, have little call to use their imaginations.
Check it out for yourself. Find a child with whom you can share the pictures in your mind. Also, plan for turn about. After I had spieled my story, full of strange but friendly dogs and cats, Kenny wanted to describe pictures in his mind to share with me.
When his teen-aged sister came to pick him up, he asked if she had pictures in her head she could tell him about. She grinned at him, then at me.
“We can tell when a kid has spent time with you, Nana. It’s always obvious.”
Is imagining a lost art, something left behind with past generations?
Pick a book, like LORD OF THE RINGS. Select a descriptive excerpt from a master like J.R.R. Tolkien and read it to a child. See if either of you benefit.
An imagination is a terrible thing to waste.