It's the cry, whine of the young and older child "Mum I'm bored....". My usual response is "boring people are bored". Sometimes it challenges the left side of the brain long enough to kick start the right side into thinking more creatively, when a child has had limited self-directed play opportunity, a defibrilliator for the brain would be handy, without it they are lost in their sea of despair without cords, controllers and buttons to press. It's a sad reality of the 'give them what they want' generation, influenced by catchy marketing, the guilt of hard-working, never at home, time-poor parenting & reminiscent of the over flowing junk filled letter boxes which need trees to be removed just to make the mail boxes bigger ! The irony of the affluence and culture shift of childhood. How many times have we all heard the phrase "in my day....." handed down from parent to parent to use sparingly in the hope it will ignite a spark of meaningfulness and gratitude to play.
Let me share with you the ache of my heart over the last few weeks where the grown-ups have grown so big, with big mortgages, big cars, big t.v.s, so big their bills are enormous, their left side of the brain is constantly engaged in juggling the pressures of their affluenza, so much so they forget about imagination, what it was like, what it looked like and why the hell it is so damn important.
Once upon a time there was a little girl, "a princess" with long golden locks, soft satin pink gloves up to her arm pits, a feather boa at risk of flinging her into the sky if a large gust of wind caught it, in a satin "gown" handed down from her sister, attempting to sing Bocelli' meets Dora whilst bouncing on the trampoline. Not an unusual sight for her loyal subjects, who stood back in awe of her imagination in all its glory....opera on the trampoline...who would have ever thought of that ?
One day the little princess went to Kinder where all the maidens and prince's in the land joined together in play. They each lined up neatly outside and one by one in a neat little dairy cattle like line, entered their next adventure...the kingdom of the Kinder Castle...."woo hooooo".
The princess stood quietly to take in her new surroundings, each activity kindly and neatly prepared for her, the textas, the craft boxes, even the paints already selected, the 'wise' teachers had prepared it all, down to selecting the puzzles and telling the children what to do, when to sing, when to line up and where,to go next. The walls adorned pictures, one of each maiden and prince placed neatly side-by-side, detailed with the same black texta. The princess couldn't wait to be "allowed" to run outside; she really missed her long flowing dress and locks, replaced by a "uniform" and "neat hair" to unify with all the other maidens and prince's, yet she packed her imagination.
Outside the kinder castle beckoned adventures of free imaginative play in the fairy garden, digging to Africa in the sandpit and cooking up a storm in the timber restaurant behind the hedge. The princess ran with excitment, over the "troll" bridge....hiding beneath the "fairy tree", making friends with all the "animals of the forest". Today was the day the restaurant opened, you could see the spectacle of right and left brain development as it occured, limited by requests for the door to stay open as it "had to", limited by no props, no tea sets, no table cloths, aprons or heaven forbid flour and water, no paper, no pencils, no extension of the hive of creative activity directed by the children. There was passionate play oozing from every voice, there in their freedom to explore, occurred the very synaptic formations laying the foundations for the brains future. The princess ran until she could run no more. The princess stopped ...where are all the dress-ups she wondered? Why can't I have shoes and clothes outside? I need to make a wand, a hat, where are my jewels and bag ? The prince's in their adventures to Africa suggested they could "help dig them out" yet their hands were tired, there were only enough spades for a few "diggers". The princess stopped, her imagination went quiet.
The children were told to "share" "take turns" taught the social conforming rules of play, the "rules of Kinder", the "way to line up", "sit down" and "sing"....why the children didn't need their imaginations afterall, the kind teachers could think, act, plan and provide for them and so the right brain began to quieten, the left brain too, neither required to work closely together anymore, all that is un-real is considered meaningless and second to "skill development" and "cooperation".
The princess felt an emptiness inside her heart, a quietness she had not felt before. Gone was the bouncing and excitement, considered "challenging" and placed extra demands on the wise educators to think outside the box. There were no rainbow flowers, just flowers with red petals and green leaves.
The next time the princess came to the Kinder castle she cried out with a gasp "I'm bored Mummy...." and thus begins the story of all the children of the land and the tale of the long lost treasure of imagination.
So I removed Lu from Kinder, not without an attempt to share a few valuable lessons of years of my own early childhood experiences and joy of adopting an emergent curriculum approach. Yet when you are facing adults who cannot imagine a world of teaching so stimulating and exciting, you are asked to politely butt out...and so I did.
It wasn't the only environment I felt the suppression of the child as an individual and adult-direction take over as the 'only way'. It occurred at swimming as well. To a point where Lu was held on her back when she refused to allow her ears to get wet and pulled backwards into the water against the teachers chest. Lu screamed and cried, real tears! As the 'soft mother' I am, I went to the side of the pool, by this time she had started the self-intiated hyper-ventilating. On attempting to discuss with the Coordinator the benefits of flexibility and given Lu's previous passion for water & swimming lessons, this was a complete suprise. I was told to go out to the car & "make her" come in, that I would be "negligent" as a parent if I did not make her have swimming lessons.
I will not dispute the benefits, particularly the safety around learning to swim. Yet instructors are just that, learn to swim teachers, no child development specialists. They are taught on a need to know subject basis, swimming is their subject, everything outside of that is irrelvant, like child psychology and the impact of distress and trauma on the developing brain. They were not concerned that this little princess imagined herself as a mermaid with long flowing locks swimming thru the water, who showed no fear leaping from the edge of the deep end of the pool in Broome & dolphin wobbling up to the surface at 18 months of age ! What they wanted, like the wise Kinder castle staff is for her to conform. I spent months of a UK freezing winter attending learning to swim & decided to complete an instructors course.....23 years ago and very little has change.
Where has the imagination gone and what is its role in childhood ?
There is now research stating too much imagination results in anxiety disorders and fears? Yet not enough contributes to mental health disorders, obsessive compulsive, a need to control every part of the child's environment. That...wait for it....without imagination a child has difficulty playing, needs constant adult assistance. Does this mean the child still has dreams ? OMG what would life be like without dreams ?
Is there a role for imagination in a child's world today?
When I was young, I dreamed and imagined of travelling to far off places and I did. Imagination is so much more than the neatly contrived dictionary meaning "the formation of a mental image of something that is not perceived as real and is not present to the senses". Imagining gives us hope, takes us to far off places when the pain is too great, helps us remember and imagine those we can no longer see. It lays the foundations for dreams, tucked away in the hardrive of our thoughts, are the imaginings of our childhood. The imagination helps us find the pterodactyl in the shadow drifting across the water, a galloping stallion in the clouds, what would Picasso have painted without his imagination? Every human-made wonder on the planet started with an idea, imagining and bringing their vision to reality.
This year my eldest son will apply for the Army. His first word, before Mum for goodness sake...was "plane"...bizarre I know....When he was 3 years old he would collect objects from around the house and put them in his cam pouch, strap it too his back, grab a stick from the garden & create his military adventures around the yard. Now we run/walk together at 0600 as part of his fitness prep fo his application. Whilst I wish he had dreamed another dream, imagined a different path, the smile on his face at Cadet training and the committment to his dream is something I will forever be proud of.
We are their tools, we are the instruments of the child's imagination. The ones who help children to discover the joys of long car trips without DVD players and game machines, who share in awe of dress-ups and imaginative play, we are their collaborators, their loyal followers. We move moutains to fill the car with petrol and drag everyone out of bed at 0400 to drive 5 hrs to Sydney when we only have 24 hrs notice that the US Indepdence is visiting Sydney harbour, just to share their dreams, to give them hope. The brain that fires together.....wires together. Imagination stimulates a developing brain, the child's brain literally grows when they imagine !! Benjamin Franklin ....Martin Luther King.....these men had dreams....
Join me in turning the tide on the tales of the lost treasure of imagination. Share in the child's joy, hold back turning on that t.v., dance a little more, turn up the music, visit a museum, spend a day at the beach, go bush walking.....without you the child's imagination is at risk of extinction.....
PS There is of course a down side to the use of the imagination, random bursts of laughter, screams of joy, you use a lot of tape, ribbon, fabric and staples !! Arm yourself with a trusty toolbox. Imagining also has some side effects - it results in a loss of boredom !!!