I was one of those children who had a very active imagination. I think part of it stemmed from the fact that I was an only child who moved around a lot. This translated into lots of lonely days on my own — days in which I had to come up with ways to entertain myself. I loved reading and devoured books. I also had a Nintendo and played that occasionally. But more often than not, I would create imaginary scenes for myself to become part of, and I would act them out.
Some days I was a veterinarian, operating on my stuffed animals. Other days I was a famous singer, giving interviews to the press after a concert. During third grade, I had a long blue coat with spy comic strips for the lining, and this turned me into a secret agent. As I got older and gained more responsibility around the house, I allowed my chores of unloading the dishwasher and wiping down the counters to transform me into a waitress at diner. I met a lot of interesting characters at that diner, all courtesy of my imagination.
Sometimes during my younger years, my mom would see me out on the front porch talking to myself and think that I had an imaginary friend. I’m afraid she was kind of concerned about it! But I would always reassure her with these words: “No, Mom, I’m acting.”
As I reflect on my childhood years, I can remember feeling almost cursed that I had so few playmates. I think I cried myself to sleep over it on more than a few occasions. But now as I look back, I can do so with fondness and gratitude for all of my imagination-filled hours and what they taught me. In fact, today I work as a full-time storyteller. In my work, I use a lot of audience-participation because I want to show children that they too can create unique and fun worlds to explore through their imagination. I also have the privilege of teaching workshops to educators and showing them the value of creative dramatic play and how it allows children to try on many different roles and express themselves and their interests.
I like to leave children with the idea that each book that they read is an adventure waiting to happen! Any story can be acted out at home, and they don’t need fancy props to do it. A blanket can become a river. A green bath robe can turn you into a crocodile. An old scarf can become a monkey’s tail.
The next time you read a story to your child, encourage them to act it out. Allow them to explore the emotions of the characters. Get them physically involved by finding a walk or movement for the characters. Have them use their voice in different ways until they find a voice for the character. This can be done with any kind of story, but it works particularly well with folktales which often have a lot of fun and interesting animal characters with strong personalities. It’s also great to try with Bible stories because it allows children to inhabit the story, making it relevant to them and their own experience.
Even if you don’t consider yourself an actor or actress, get involved and play alongside your child. Don’t be afraid to be a real goofball! These will be unforgettable moments that will show your child that no matter how old you are, you’re never too old to use your imagination, to try new things and to have fun.
As much as you can, look for opportunities to engage your child’s imagination whether you’re at home, at the park, in the grocery store or traveling in the car. For as Albert Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Everyone has an imagination — so don’t let yours, or your child’s, go to waste!