Helping Children Embrace Imagination: Thoughts on Two Books

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As a mother raising a child in a world of video games and television, electronic gadgets and noise makers, I have often wondered how to encourage my son’s imagination. This seems to be a challenge even now when he’s a toddler, and it may be even more so as he grows. Society’s emphasis on after-school activities, sports, and progress in general seems to put undue pressure on children. In the hopes of remembering to slow down, I recently read two books that put a parent’s role in perspective: Awakening Children’s Minds by Laura Berk and Seeing Past Z by Beth Kephart.

In Awakening Children’s Minds by child psychology expert and university professor Laura Berk (published in 2001, Oxford University Press), I found a wonderful discussion of what parents and teachers can do to encourage imagination in their children, particularly those between the ages of 2 and 8.

The opening chapters focus on what children need developmentally from parents and other caregivers, what parental behaviors stifle creativity, and the ways parents can encourage creativity by providing help in the “zone” of a child’s development. In fact, children need not just “quality time” with parents and loved ones but more quantity time as well. One does not replace the other. Berk provides a number of practical solutions for parents, and as I read I felt reassured that I’m doing okay in raising my son.

The latter half of the book focuses on the import of teachers nurturing the imagination in the preschool, kindergarten, and early elementary years. The facts behind child development in a school setting was a bit disconcerting, since I recently found out that my son’s future school district has an average class size (for kindergarten) of more than 30 children, much above the recommended level for ideal learning. Nonetheless, since I am not about to home school (I do not have that kind of stamina), I still found the information helpful. It helped me see some of the problems with public education, and showed me why, for example, I so despised math throughout my childhood: it was not taught creatively and I am a person that needs creativity to fully learn concepts. I hope I can take some of the concepts to heart so that when my child is in a school environment that is detrimental to creativity, I can still help him embrace an open and imaginative future.

If Awakening Children’s Minds has a fault, it’s that it is academic at times, something that is good in its place but may be too much for the general reader. Professor Berk provides statistics and lab explanations for child development that are completely relevant, yet may overwhelm the parent not accustomed to academic nonfiction. To me, it was mostly accessible, and the beginning especially, gave me ideas for my own parenting.

I read Professor Berk’s book at my husband’s recommendation because I am always looking for ways to improve my own stay-at-home parenting: after all, this is my current chosen career. Reading it in the presence of my mostly happy toddler (cooking his pretend “birthday cake” in the pretend “oven” in the family room) gave me comfort.  When Raisin asked what I was reading and I said a book about being a better Mommy, he responded, “You’re a very very good Mommy!”

Awwww. Thanks, dear!

Seeing Past Z by Beth Kephart was a comparatively inspiring book for a mother striving to share creativity with her children, albeit a far different one. As a personal memoir of her own struggle to teach her preteen creativity, Ms Kephart wrote a personal and anecdotal narrative.

At first, I disliked the present tense and the personal essay-like feel of each chapter (I do not normally enjoy memoir and personal essay) but I quickly overcame any discomfort as I read of her stories with her son, as she help him, her only child, to create stories, enjoy reading, and otherwise embrace creativity in a world that expected him to instead join more “programs.”

After her personal essay-like chapters, Ms Kephart also includes a “reader’s guide” to creating a summer book and writing group with preteens in the community, a project I would have loved to have been a part of as a preteen myself. Instead, I recall that as a preteen I put on plays with my neighbor friends (Hansel and Gretel, for one), wrote dramatic stories, and filmed videos and commercials with my parent’s new video camera.

I hope I can take Ms Kephart’s techniques to heart to encourage such creativity in my son’s later years. How I hope that with my encouragement my son won’t stop being creative, as I did, come the busy middle school and high school years. I think it is important for him to always make time for meditation, personal reading, and creative writing. This world has enough of the other stuff.

Reviewed on September 21, 2010

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

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