Remembering How to Play: Children and Their Roles as Stewards of the Imagination

Watching a toddler play with toys in the manner in which they were designed to be played is entertaining, but taking ordinary objects that you and I as adults take for granted at their function and turning them into master pieces of the imagination, that is a miracle of childhood- a magic that dissipates casually and without our notice. It’s just, one day, we neglect to play and only have time to take the object at face value. All of the sudden we stop playing. We find other outlets for our creativity, maybe. Every so often we let down our guard and allow a hair brush to become a microphone. Here lies one of the miracles of having children. They remind you that a blanket can be a cape or a fort or can even make you invisible.

It’s amazing to me how, to a toddler, a chair is more than just a chair. My toddler has an ugly little garage sale rocking chair that looks like it was built circa 1960 for a grumpy old little person to sit in and chain smoke. For my toddler it is certainly a place to sit and watch his shows (minus the chain smoking), but it also serves as a terrific surfboard while standing in the seat and rocking. Flip it back onto its back and it becomes a little table to play with legos or put a plate for eating. Turn it upside down and throw a blanket over it and you have a great little fort. These are just a few of the configurations that my son has come up with. There are several more that amuse and impress me with their functionality. And because it is so ugly, I certainly couldn’t begrudge him adding his own artwork, turning an ugly canvas into his masterpiece

Your children remind you to not take yourself so seriously, especially when you open a notebook at work for a meeting that you have been stressing over and the margins are graffitied with your child’s scribbles. Children provide perspective. They remind you that you once lived simply and creatively. Creativity is a muscle that atrophies with age, if not exercised regularly. Our children grab our hands in their dimpled knuckles and pull us back to a time when it was perfectly logical, entirely necessary and effortlessly natural to speak to the voice on the other end of the imaginary phone. They are the stewards of imagination, curators of that most valuable of commodities in the human brain- that which says, look at this blank screen and imagine what it could say.

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