Reading and Imagination: Is There Hope for Our Kids?

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My second grade teacher wrote on one of my report cards: "Julie is a good student, but she's a daydreamer."

It's true. My childhood was spent in imagination. What my own world didn't give me, books did. I read voraciously and then lived those stories in my mind.

In the fifth grade, we lived "in the country" in Idaho. Miles out of town, the homes were separated by fields that would've easily supported football teams. Friends lived far away. Our house was a quaint two-story surrounded by land and behind it was the greatest back yard I could have dreamed of. There were empty ram-shackle buildings, (which we were forbidden to enter -- of course, we did. Sorry, Mom.) and trees, both standing and fallen, all the greatest playground for a girl who lived in her head.

Pod of dolphins race along the boatThat year, our class read Island of the Blue Dolphins, a book about a girl who'd been left alone to fend for herself, learning survival skills and making friends with animals. I devoured that book. Then, I spent hours in the fields behind our home acting out my own version of the story. I was Karana. My island wasn't as tropical as hers, but it didn't matter. I could see the cliffs and smell the spray of the ocean. I pretended to use sticks as my "bone comb," gathered leaves and "hunted" for food.

Over my growing up years, I became other characters, like Laura Ingalls and even Helen Keller. I read every day, long before it was a requirement for school. That, plus the time I spent alone, either playing out stories, or living them in my head, was my pathway for becoming a writer.

Now, I worry for our kids. My baby dolls didn't cry or move. My stuffed animals didn't crawl across the floor and our Battleship game was silent. I look at my children and hope they'll develop their imaginations. With all of the stimulation we provide them, I'm afraid they don't have the need to pretend. In this time of technology, reading may be the last of the imaginary activities available.

Imagination is a precious commodity. It teaches them to dream. If they can see themselves as Harry Potter or Eragon, then perhaps they can see themselves as a teacher or a doctor or a parent. Imagination gives us hope, it's an avenue to setting and achieving goals. Our children need to read so they can learn to imagine. So they can learn to dream.

Today, I still daydream. It's how I write. Time alone with my thoughts, while exercising or driving, or lying in bed at night, that's when my stories develop. I'm grateful for parents who didn't squash my flighty tendencies. And teachers who encouraged my love for reading and all things pretend. My children may not become writers, that's okay. I hope, though, that they are pretenders and dreamers, that they will believe that they can be whatever they can imagine.

(My post this morning was inspired by Masked Mom and herposts about Laura Ingalls Wilder.)

Photo Credit: timmyo.

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