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
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