Cultivate the Imagination

William in character

William in character

How imaginative are your kids? It’s only natural that our kids express themselves through imaginative play, especially beginning around age 3. On Monday, I talked about the benefit of taking our kids outdoors for some play in nature. The same holds true for imaginative play.

Imaginative play is so good for our kids. When they act out their little scenarios, with a toy or simply in their minds, they are expressing a true, developmentally appropriate form of creativity. I discussed the many important benefits of imaginative play about a year ago, and my philosophy remains the same. Given that there are only 24 hours in the day, I would much prefer that my boys have more time for imaginative play than learning their multiplication tables. There is a place for both, but I believe that imaginative play does more for our kids’ ability to create and learn than rote memorization does.

We are not the family that does flashcards for fun. If you came to my house, you’d be much more likely to find my boys raiding their costume bin or setting up a Lego battle than sitting at a table doing school work. The interesting thing about it is that my kids are smart (if I do say so myself). William is a year ahead of grade level in math and reads several grade levels ahead. Lucas is in pre-K and is reading. He will listen to a story, and without skipping a beat, will be able to narrate it back to me (tell me what happened in the story).

As is the case with outdoor time, if we give them the freedom for imaginative play, they’ll be that much better off when it comes to academics. Yes, imaginative play takes time away from school work, but if we did nothing but school work, I doubt we’d be any farther ahead. I believe my boys do well academically because we spend time outdoors and play imaginatively, not despite it.

Go Outside!

My boys playing in the sand

My boys playing in the sand

How much time do you spend outdoors? Do you make it a point to take your kids outside daily? Do you realize the benefits of a little fresh air and activity? I’m writing this from my favorite spot at Starbucks after walking here from my house. The minute we set foot outside the house, my mood changed instantly.

It’s too easy to get wrapped up in our indoor lifestyles, especially this time of year. When it’s raining or snowing outside, all we want to do is curl up in front of a fire with a good book. Even if we do get out, it’s from one indoor activity to another (piano lessons, gymnastics, grocery store, etc.). Our kids may be getting exercise through their sporty activities, but how much play time do they spend outside?

More than that, how much time are they given the freedom to truly explore our outdoor world? An indoor basketball practice pales in comparison to running through the forest, catching butterflies, handling bugs, finding that perfect stick, and soaking up some sunshine. Our natural world has so much to offer our kids.

This is true especially with boys. If you have a hyperactive boy on your hands, what do you do? Say he wont sit still during a meal, he tilts his chair back at school, or won’t sit still long enough to do his homework or listen to a story. Should you be more strict in your insistence that he sit still? Should you threaten to take away the toys that seem to distract him? Should you take away his prized park outing?

The first thing you should do to deal with a hyperactive child is to go outside! Set the homework aside. Piano practice can wait a bit. The amazing thing is if you give him that outdoor time, he’ll be able to focus so much more on the important work he needs to do. You could stay inside and slave away, with both of you getting frustrated. Or you could spend 15 minutes outside and get the work done in half the time it would have required if you didn’t go outside.

Having two boys has been such a growth experience for me. I’m a girly girl at heart. I do my hair and shave my legs every day (even in winter). When they were toddlers, I could tell that my boys needed outdoor time. I’m sure if I had girls, we’d be inside doing crafts all day, especially on our misty Seattle days. But my boys? They need to run around outside. We simply cannot let rain stop us.

I came across an article on the Growing Kids site that talks about ADHD and outdoor play. In it, the author talks about the “natural cure” of ADHD. She references a book that discusses the lack of time we spend outside, or the “nature-deficit disorder”:

Rickard Louv wrote Last Child In the Woods, which has the most interesting subtitle, Saving Our Kids from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In it, he shares recent studies that have been done concerning the effect of natural surroundings on kids with ADHD. These studies indicate that kids with ADHD tend to calm down and function better in a natural setting.

The article’s author talks about her days outside with her son who may have been diagnosed with ADHD if he had gone to a traditional school:

Lesson one: a large, open field and a butterfly net. I remember sitting on a towel and watching my son burrow through the tall grass in pursuit of the yellow “flutter-bys,” as he called them, experiencing the wonder of capturing them a putting them in a peanut butter jar for observation! We most often let them go, but “school” had happened in that meadow — and at least some of the “wiggles” had been released so that he was more ready to sit for a while and do traditional school when we got home.

I’m learning more about the value of outdoor play through my Charlotte Mason readings. (Charlotte Mason was an educator who has inspired a homeschool philosophy.) No CM homeschool is complete without nature study. We are to take our kids outside and let them experience nature, and we should do so for an hour or more every day. When we get home, the kids are to create a drawing or painting of whatever it was that caught their eye outside. This is beneficial even if you’re not a homeschooler.

Whenever you find yourself at your wit’s end with your kids, put on their coats and shoes and walk out the front door. The mere task of coats and shoes may seem insurmountable, but once you get out, you can relax a bit, and everyone will be happier when you come back in.

Make play a priority

Life and a sick child have gotten the better of me, so I only have the energy to leave you with this one thought. It’s an important one, though, so pay attention. As you think about what activities to sign your kids up for this fall, and as you look ahead to school starting (if it hasn’t started already), think about play. Yes, homework needs to be done, and music classes can be very enriching. But please stop yourself before you sign up for much more than that. Take a look at this amazing graphic.

I agree with every single word. Let your kids be kids. Let them play outside and inside every day. Make play a priority!