Every weekday at 10 a.m., a band of three year-olds forms a scraggly line, troops out of our classroom, and valiantly marches into an adventure. Awaiting them is nothing more than an open blacktop, a couple of slides and stairs, a simple playhouse and some remnants of abandoned chalk pictures. But this little rascal crew sees much more. Within minutes the slides become mountains, the playhouse a rocket ship, the stairs a stage. The characters take their places and the drama begins. For thirty minutes the scene evolves and the plot ebbs and flows with new scenarios. Bad guys begin chasing the heroes before they are stopped by an open palm and an imaginary explosion of ice. The playhouse-rocket-ship is being prepared for lift off. Minutes later the crew jumps ship and the abandoned rocket welcomes a group of ice cream shop entrepreneurs. The drama continues right up to the sound of the bell, leaving the players with a sense of anticipation about how it will all be continued tomorrow.
As adults, we often see a scenario like this and think it is typical child’s play. It is cute and entertaining, but we believe that they will outgrow this behavior and one day move onto more important things. Imagining is the work of children, we think. Or is it?
Fast forward for a moment and try to envision these preschoolers as adults in a boardroom. They have traded their rocket ship for a team of employees and their slide-mountain for a family of five. Instead of working together to create an ice cream shop where everyone’s flavor can be whipped up out of thin air, they are embracing one another’s ideas and finding creative solutions to more “real” problems. The habit of imagining that was cultivated on the playground is still at work.
Charlotte Mason believed that developing the Habit of Imagining was critical to a child’s development. While other habits she prized—like Temper & Fortitude or Neatness & Order—are naturally in line with the high performance values of our culture, the significance of the Habit of Imagining, and making an effort to cultivate it in our children, proves more of a stretch.
My own struggle with this conundrum was recently challenged. I was reading a wonderfully helpful book where the author adjured the reader to “begin with the end in mind.” Namely, he spelled out the importance of imagining ideal personal growth scenarios: Where would you like to be in ten years, fifty years, next weekend? What type of retirement you would like to have and what legacy would you like to leave? He prompted me as the reader to imagine the types of things I would want my children or co-workers to say about me when I am not listening. Then, beginning from this imagined scenario (and the more vivid, the better), the author invited the reader to begin working backwards, developing the specific goals and creative strategies required to make those dreams an eventual reality. As I took some time to ponder and apply this technique to some areas of my own life, I realized: “This is the habit of imagining!”
I have been struck this year, amidst the many challenges of holding in-person school during a global pandemic, with the incredible imagination displayed by our school’s administration. In an effort to remain true to the core vision and values of SCCS, they have truly dreamed up some incredible solutions to some really tricky problems! Think for a moment what it may have been like for us if those administrators had not have practiced the habit of imagining when the reality of global shut-down was upon us. How might we have all been affected had they simply drifted along with policy and not thought creatively about how to conduct a meaningful and life-giving school year for our students and families? I think we are already seeing the fruit of their imaginations.
So, the next time you see your child turning a stick into a saber or a clubhouse into a boutique, remember that abundant imagining is not something he or she should outgrow. The scenario you are watching play out in your own back yard or living room may be a foreshadowing of a pandemic scenario solution in their future. Let’s continue to display this habit for our children as we imagine creative ends for our own lives and situations, and may they grow up to be fulfilled and enriched because of this beautiful habit.
Leigh Ann Smart teaches PK3 at SCCS.