Are our children losing the ability to imagine? Parents often express their concerns to me about the amount of time their children spend online talking with friends or playing computer games. When they are done with these, they are watching television. If access to the above forms of entertainment are withdrawn, children complain of being ‘bored’.
Then, with all of the extra-curricular activities children are involved in these days, there is little time for unstructured play. This is unfortunate, for, as Albert Einstein said, “imagination is more important than knowledge”. Thinking up imaginary games to play, scripting the parts, setting the stage, and then allowing a ‘story’ to spontaneously emerge involves high-level thinking. It is creative in the truest sense, for the ‘play’ is being created in every moment.
This kind of play also involves communication and cooperation. The parties have to reach agreements, and then, undoubtedly, may have to negotiate from time to time as things unfold. And, of course, there is a lot of improvising and pretending.
These are the very skills that innovators and leaders in all walks of life possess. They formulate an idea and then develop a vision. That vision is, at first, pretending: imagining what it would look like if the idea or concept were implemented. They must communicate their vision to others when it is just an idea.
This is very different from what children spend so much time doing: sitting alone in front of a screen, either being passively entertained, or clicking the controls to make something happen in a game created by someone else, requiring a relatively narrow skill set.
If imaginary play is a ‘dying art,’ we would be wise to re-introduce it to our children. Parents may have to play with them, at first, to teach them how to do it. Unfortunately, many of the parents of young children were also raised on computers and television, so may be at a loss in this area.
I do believe imagination is inherent in all. Perhaps we need to unplug the electronics, and leave children more time with ‘nothing to do’, particularly when they are young, and before they become addicted. A mind is a precious and powerful thing. Let’s give our children the opportunity to develop theirs naturally.
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