Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Imagination Headed For The Endangered Species List

Today’s post is going to be slightly off topic. Just slightly. But it is also going to be the most important post I’ve ever written. This rant has been forming for a few years now, but it took a little nudge from a column I read this past weekend to get me to finally commit my thoughts to the blogosphere.

Sunday’s New York Times ran a humorous opinion column by Jon Methven on the disappearing art of daydreaming and how we would all be much healthier in body and spirit if we occasionally indulged. As writers, you daydream. I know you do. Writers must daydream or nothing would ever be written. It is where we mine our imaginations and discover new characters and stories.

But, sadly, over the past five years or so I have met many, many people who have no imagination and cannot understand the meaning of imagination, what it is, why it is good, or what a person should do with it. And they rarely daydream, in the way you and I might daydream. These people have all been seven or eight years old. They have been my second grade students. And they are missing that integral piece of humanity and most importantly of childhood: imagination.

In his column Methven points to our plugged-in society, always connected to technology, as one reason for the current dearth of daydreaming. Think about it. When we stand in line at the store we don’t let our minds wander to places unknown, no, we take out our phones and check our email, or text someone, or try to kill little piggies with flying birds. And as sad as that is, with our adult, fully formed brains, it is much more frightening when it is our young children with their still-forming brains.

I know from listening to my students that playing outside is a rare occurrence. Playing a make-believe game more rare. Sitting and staring into space and wondering what is on the other side of the end of the universe? Never. They are too busy playing the latest video games. They are always plugged in. And when they aren’t plugged in they are being shuttled to soccer, dance lessons, scouts, Chinese lessons, karate class, piano lessons, baseball, art class, the list goes on. THEY HAVE NO DOWN TIME!

This lack of imagination started showing up during writing lessons, about five or six years ago. I’ve always prided myself with giving my students exciting, fun writing prompts. For years my students would write and write about the prompt, weaving together wonderful stories they were proud to share. But not today. Now I’m met with a chorus of “I don’t know what to write!” Or worse yet, children who simply sit and stare at the paper, utterly confused by the concept of using their imaginations to create a story.

So, I would sit with individual students and ask questions that I hoped would spark some creativity. I’d ask lots of What If questions. Or Have You Ever questions. But, no. Nothing would work.

While imagination is necessary for the creative arts like writing, it is also necessary for all of the sciences that improve our lives. Scientists of every type help save lives, improve lives, and protect lives by asking What If questions. By using their fertile imaginations. By daydreaming.

For today’s children to grow up and become the people who find the cure for cancer, or end global warming, or discover ways to feed our world’s growing population, or write the Great American Novel they must possess rich imaginations. They must learn to sit and wonder. To think. To play make-believe. And for that to happen the adults in their lives must provide the time to allow thinking, wondering, questioning. The adults must unplug their children and stop overscheduling them.

A few years back I started ending every Back To School Night speech with my talk about avoiding overscheduling children. I had seen plenty of stressed out little children who had a hard time focusing in school, and I simply had to tell the parents what their well-meaning super-scheduling was doing to their children.

But now I see it as reaching crisis level. I fear imagination is becoming endangered by our children’s overuse of technology, eg. video games, and by overscheduling their precious little free time.

If you made it to the end of this rant, you know I feel very strongly about this issue. Please send this link to parents you think may benefit from the message. Bring up the topic at dinner tonight. Mention it at Tommy’s baseball game tomorrow. Please just spread the word.

Thank you.


  1. You are so right! This is a sad situation... Back down, mom and dad! Let the kids be kids!

  2. Thanks for sharing your concern and passion, Monica. I do agree that imagination is critical to the overall success of our selves individually and of our country. I also see more children having problems with conversation...they are talked at but not with.

  3. Monica,

    As a librarian, you KNOW I feel strongly about this issue. I am a writer today because I grew up with no TV and lots of books and free time where I had to entertain myself.

    My Barbie & Ken had wild adventures with costumes I made myself (found those during this move, pretty funny). I believe that was the beginning of romance writing for me!

    Kids also need free play time with other kids to learn to get along in a group. This is the beginning of human interaction they'll take through life with them, the foundation of family and community behavior.

    I hope this post goes viral - doing my part to help it.

    Cathryn Cade

  4. Thank you Cathryn.

    I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support. This is so near and dear to my heart that I just want to shout it from the mountain tops.

    And I absolutely agree with your comment about time to play with other children. Too often the only time they have to play with peers is in those structured settings, but they need to have free time to learn how to get along with others, work things out, come to consensus without adult intervention, and just have fun!

    Let's keep spreading the word Cathryn.


  5. Great post on an important topic. Parents are so concerned about keeping their kids entertained that they don't realize the importance of children learning to entertain themselves with their imagination. If you can enjoy your own company, you'll never be bored. To be healthy, our minds must be allowed to roam free. Keep making your speech to parents Monica. The smart ones will listen.

  6. I agree 100% so to add to the craziness in our lives we have technology free days. KIds portent to hate it, but end up playing board games or going outside together. Very refreshing!