My son asked me to play this week. Now I am good at playing games with them. I can read aloud and color, do puzzles and shoot hoops. But play? He was asking me to engage in his imaginary story and become part of that world. And I froze. I am embarrassed to admit that I truly didn’t know how to respond. It was so easy to play along when they were little–have a tea party, drive big trucks, rock the baby doll… But as they have aged and their stories have become more complex, I realized that I had stopped playing with my kids. Is our imagination like a muscle? Can it atrophy? I was truly lost when I only had my imagination to lean on. Needless to say, this bothered me terribly, and after our rousing time of bomber planes and army soldiers ended, I began to contemplate the value of knowing how to play.
In a world of screens and noise, imaginary play often takes a back seat. This great gift, that is always with us and doesn’t require batteries, is often not exercised to its fullest potential. I realized that because I had not been using my imagination, I didn’t have much of one to use. My children on the other hand, can fill hours with a story line based on trains, animals and houses (like the one that covered my living room floor not too many days ago!). Is this something they could lose? A skill that can be forgotten?I recognize that the way they play and imagine will change as they grow, but I cannot help thinking about some of the great creators in our world- authors, designers, problem solvers…are they good at what they do because they have not stifled their ability to imagine? They can imagine a solution, imagine a story with amazing characters, imagine a design to meet a need. They use the same creative muscle to do these things, that my children are using when they play. I want to encourage and develop that ability as much as I can…even when it means that I have to learn to play all over again.