Sunday, September 23, 2012

On the {Lost} Art of the Imagination

"I'm bored." He whined. "What can I do, mom?" Every now and then it's, "Can I play on the computer?"

It was quiet time at our house yesterday when our eight-year-old son wanderd up the stairs after about an hour of play and rest in his room.

"You know what I've found?" I responded. "If you go out there past that gate right there (pointing out the window toward our backyard fence), it's like entering the world of Narnia."

"What do you mean?"

"Well, once you leave our yard, it's like entering a whole new world of exploration."

I had just ventured out myself the day before and my eyes were opened up to jungles and forests and prairies.

"You mean I can go explore by myself?!" He wonders, eyes open wide.

"Yes! Go explore."

This forbidden land, which we had barely explored together a couple of times in the last couple of years, was made up of a gully with a running stream, tall wheat grass, trees and cattails all around. Fields spread beyond that, which were fenced off, yet there was an area of exploration where an imagination could run wild for an eight-year-old boy. 

He packed a gallon sized zip lock bag with a banana, fruit snacks and baby carrots and headed off on his adventure.

It wasn't long before I saw him back sitting on top of that dirt hill right outside the fence eating his snacks, the place he is more familiar with, I suppose. But when his six-year-old sister woke up, he introduced her to this new found freedom. Together they explored the land and came back to ask for a piece of large cardboard for their fort by the stream and they quickly designed a flag with simply paper and pen, and by the way, "Did you know there is a tree right in the middle of that stream with a rock bed at the bottom?!" and I had to go see this site right away!

And I was grateful.

Because outdoor exploration seems to be a lost art in our fast-paced generation. Even when given the opportunity in the great outdoors, children don't initially seem to know what to do with themselves.

It's as though they are unfamiliar with looking at the world through the lens of their imagination.

And I've wondered if it could be because we as parents are signing our children up for one activity after another. Could it be we are over-booking their life, keeping them so busy that, on their own, they don't know what to do with themselves? Are they spending their spare minutes in front of a screen?

As a child, I remember playing outdoors for hours on end with my sisters and neighborhood friends. Don't you? We spent our time outside playing hop scotch, jump rope, and hide and go seek; we rode bikes pretending they were motorcycles and explored a small patch of trees near our house, which became a thick forest of discovery.

One day's play would roll into the next as our creativity did not stop after an hour or even the end of the day, but was continuous.

Much like the art of writing an essay or a book, a song or a symphony; like painting a scene on a blank canvas, one continues their expression until it is fully expressed, then are drawn to the next. 

When a child puts his creative mind to work, he creates a masterpiece - that focused, creative experience that becomes his greatest and proudest work in life.

I don't remember going a lot of places or partaking in many organized activities growing up. We couldn't afford many things. Yet, I also don't remember ever telling my parents I was bored. If we weren't playing in another world, we were making up skits, singing, or choreographing dance moves to perform for family, friends, and neighbors. Granted, our life was, by no means, the Cleavers.

Yet, there was something very rich in the fact that we were given the freedom to use our imaginations to explore and create.

Today, my own children do have the luxury of choosing organized activities and my husband and I see value in that also. Yet, we work hard to seek the balance. Because in today's generation, it's easy to think we're doing our children a disservice by withholding one from playing soccer if he chooses football and waiting to start ballet until she finishes soccer or to even have a season without activities. We're not. 

We do them a disservice when we pack their schedule so tightly that they seldom discover their world through the lens of their own imagination.

It was dusk before I saw their heads pop up from within that gully yesterday. And today, before breakfast and after church, they were once again immersed in a land like Narnia.

And I was grateful.


Given most of us don't have gullies behind our backyards, what ways do you encourage your children to exercise their imagination?

Counting gifts of gratitude with Ann today:

picnics in wheat grass
our children exercising their imaginations
seeing the world from a new perspective
sharing in their excitement
a walk in bare feet with my girls around the neighborhood
capturing this point in time with family photographs
working through a fit and a profound teachable moment

I would love to stay connected. You may subscribe to the left of this post to receive weekly updates or click here to like Heavenly Glimpses on facebook.

Sharing with A Holy ExperienceFinding HeavenThe Better Mom, The Modest MomThe WellspringGracefulA Pause on the Path,  Titus 2 Tuesdays,  What Joy is MineFar Above RubiesRaising HomemakersWise WomanWorks for me WednesdayWomen Living Well, Getting Down with Jesus,  Life in BloomBeholding GloryHomemaking Link-up partyand Raising Arrows


  1. There are so many toys and games available for sale that null the imagination because it is all up front for them to see. I love the way you encouraged your children to explore their yard and stream. It seems a harmless stream and together they can alert you if one gets hurt.
    Make believe was our fun game. No cost either.

  2. yes.yes.yes. this art of imagination. we didn't have much money growing up, but you wouldn't know it for the ruby's in my crown, or the towers we would climb - the lands we would discover. love that you are bringing your children here. the land is just breathtaking and needs youth to see it in its glory.

  3. Oh I'm praying by the time my littles are big enough to go out exploring that we live somewhere that makes it possible! I remember spending hours in the woods behind our neighborhood. Great memories!

  4. oh YES. This is so important. What a beautiful post. I am so grateful that we live in the country (among the elves and fauns and so forth!) so we can explore too! And it is amazing what they will do and learn when we give them that little nudge/inspiration! :)


  5. Reminds me of my childhood spent exploring the creek at the end of our street. Too many activities, it's true. Kids don't know how to explore and use their imaginations. This is so true, thanks for sharing this!

  6. As a kid we play "Little House" complete with trails and a house! Loved every moment of it!!!

  7. great words and such truth...I do think out door play is becoming a lost art...when my children where young we lived on a 90 acres retreat fields and a river running through provided so many hours of fun...many games of games done with friends and family...we could not get cable out there either so not much tv viewing...they never knew they “missed” out...and even though we live where we can have cable...we opt not too...they really did not mind. I do think one reason they like college is because they have espn:) I love you are encouraging your kids find a more active way to play...wonderful:) blessings to you.

  8. Oh yes, I remember playing outdoors for hours! There was so much room for the imagination. I think you're right that we're trying to fill every moment for our children, but sometimes we just need to give them the gift of boredom in order for them to find their creativity!

  9. what lovely pictures, and I love how your kids can exercise their imagination in such beauty...our girl likes to take over our living room (which is basically a play room) and build tents with cardboard boxes and fabric scraps.

  10. I have a hard time getting my kids to go outside period. But then again, I didn't like playing outside when I was a child either. I remember my mother making me go outside and really never enjoying it. She even dropped me off at a public swimming pool in the town we had just moved to and left me there all day. I didn't meet a single person. It really wasn't until I was older that I learned to enjoy being outside, now I can't imagine staying indoors on a sunny day. I'm hoping that will change for my kids too. God just doesn't create us the same.

  11. I love this! I grew up in the country ~ climbing trees, walking through creeks, and playing in the woods. I can't ever remember being bored! My sons used to 'live' in a tree in our backyard. They had 13 levels to play on! Lots of imagining going on there! Thanks for this post!

    I'm visiting from Titus 2. I'd love for you to visit me!

  12. I've said it before--what an amazing mom you are. You are feeding their dreams. Such a beautiful thing.

  13. Oh, you're singing my song, friend. I agree- the art of "childhood" is dying. We, too, limit structured activities for the sake of creativity. I love to watch my girls hauling baby dolls across the yard on their latest "Boxcar children adventure." And watch my boys inventing new games on the trampoline. The word bored is just a launching pad for the world of imagination. I wish we could join you in that gully behind your house :) Love the colors of the "wheat" (or whatever those tall grasses are).

  14. We like to go for walks in the forest near our apartment. "Adventures," we call them. I'm looking forward to my girls getting just a little bit older so I can introduce them to "field journals" and teach them to draw and write about the beautiful things they find in nature!

  15. Well, I just emailed you, Theresa to tell you I couldn't comment and now it's popped up after another try to refresh.

    Just want you to know that I am so glad you are encouraging this approach! I wholeheartedly agree that we often over-schedule and keep our kids from exploring their childhoods. Amazing pictures and words of encouragement!

  16. Oh, wow, Sadee. What a great idea! I hadn't yet thought of that. Thank you.

  17. Your children are blessed to have a safe, outdoor space to explore. (Mine do, too.) I loved being outside when I was a kid, but the world seems so much scarier, these days. I think every parent has the fear of his or her child being snatched.

  18. Such a wise mom. We've been blessed to have raised our children in the woods and now I live on the same property with one set of grandchildren. I tell them we are "woodsies."

  19. Yes! I do remember playing for hours on end exploring the neighborhood and surrounding fields. I sometimes forget to be intentional about encouraging this in my children. You have inspired me to have my children go exploring tomorrow. Thank you :)

  20. Thank you all for your encouraging feedback! I appreciate all of your differing perspectives. I hope the louder message here was to encourage parents to allow children the space to create and exercise their imagination, what ever that may look like for them. As always, thank you all so much for taking the time to comment here. I love, love, love the feedback!

  21. Oh how fun! Look at all the good that can come from a wee bit of boredom! :)

  22. Oh, I love this! It just made my heart leap :) I am leaving my children for a few days, but while I am gone, I know the Lord is going to deepen my love for them even more. I long to draw out the gifts in my children--and let them run free in God!

    Thank you for all of your encouragement :) You are a blessing!

  23. Theresa...sweet post. Thank you for linking up at WJIM this week. Blessings.

  24. well done, your child
    Narnian freedom and space to build dreams:)
    beautiful share...thank you.


I love hearing from you. Thank you for taking a moment to leave a comment!