As a writer of historical fiction, imagination is my greatest asset.  Without it, my world would lack the array of colors and unlimited possibilities that I can happily get lost in.  So it isn’t surprising that I wanted my children to develop a strong imagination and a love for learning.

When they were young, we had a basement in our old house that was set up with stations.  There were areas that helped to develop small motor skills, and some to develop creative play, and others to encourage them to think outside the box.  It was a safe world for them to develop their creative sides and, above all, they both loved the trunk full of costumes.  They could become anyone they wanted, go anyplace and into any time just by putting on a costume.  Unfortunately, imagination isn’t valued as much in our world these days.  That became apparent as my children grew.

If I had a nickel for every time a teacher told me that my children needed to learn to “focus,” well, I would be rich (that is, if I lived in 1900, a nickel doesn’t go too far today).  Elementary school is so structured these days that education is developed around a schedule of tests and a curriculum that is too demanding to allow room for creativity.  Unfortunately, my children couldn’t sit in a classroom for hours and not get lost in their own imaginations.  And this became a problem.

After school there were the endless structured activities.  But it would be my child in the outfield as the ball whizzed by their heads because they weren’t paying attention.  My son couldn’t even partake in imaginative play in his own backyard without the boy next door, perched in a tree, laughing at him and ridiculing him.  Eventually, my daughter found her solace in books.   My son found his in video games as he helped Mario and Luigi uncover secret passageways as they overcame obstacles and saved the princess.

We moved to a new house when my son was eight.  The new house was in an area of Sayville that was part of the “shared” district.  On this dead end, he had the opportunity to meet new friends who went to other elementary schools.  And like the many generations of children who had inhabited this block before them, they took up residence in the woods at the end of the street.  They built forts and fought imaginary battles and maybe even saved a princess or two.  But soon the other boys and girls had no time for this type of play.  After all, if you weren’t proficient at a sport by the time you were ten, you lost your chance to have friends, or a place to belong, or a group to belong to.  In spite of my attempts to give them that, through baseball, soccer, karate, gymnastics, golf, swimming, etc, they never found “their place” in sports.  My daughter found her place in the school plays.  My son should have done the same, but he knew that being a boy in the school plays was social suicide.  So instead, he learned to play the drums and the trumpet and, although band was never really “his place”, it served its purpose.

My point is that imagination is just as important as anything our children learn in school but it isn’t valued.  But in spite of that, in the end, it brought my daughter to believe in her dream of becoming an Anthropologist and opened her to the experience of living in the Amazon for a year.  For my son, it helped to develop skills that led him to be an Orientation Leader on campus.  His creative abilities have gained him leadership roles where others rely on him to organize events and mentor new students.  So, imagination does have its place after all.  But we have to try hard to fit it in or it will be lost, and along with it, so many colors and possibilities.

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Theresa Dodaro is the author of The Tin Box Trilogy.

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