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Albert Einstein and Imagination: Why He and Mr. Rogers Were Right

L C David is an English teacher at a state university. She enjoys writing about her experiences.

Welcome to the Land of Make-Believe

Many of us grew up watching Mr. Roger's Neighborhood with his gentle words, engaging lessons, and beloved Land of Make-Believe. Following the little red trolley back to a land of kings, queens, and animals that talked showed us as children that it was okay to pretend. Sadly, in today's society, imagination is more often penalized rather than encouraged.

Wrongful Suspension

I was reading an article recently about a seven year old boy in Denver who was suspended from school for throwing an imaginary grenade on the playground. The school claims his action violates its no-weapons policy. The boy says he was playing a make-believe game called “Save The World.” He is confused and upset about his suspension, and this is rightfully so. When did the criminalization of imagination become okay?

Banning Imagination

When I was in school the idea of banning certain games had not been taken into consideration. We played “violent” games of dodge ball, cops and robbers, made imaginary guns with our fingers and were generally allowed to get it all out on the playground while our tired and beleaguered teachers enjoyed the much-needed break, watching from the shadowed area by the school building.

Even worse, though, than banning certain games is banning the child’s use of the imagination. School has already stifled creativity with cuts to arts funding and the continued emphasis on standardization. Individuality in children is becoming a thing of the past.

I don’t believe it is a different world; I believe that we have our priorities mixed up. Albert Einstein believed that "imagination is more important than knowledge."

A world of too many rules is bad for kids and terrible for their imaginations. Playtime should be a time of less boundaries, not more.

Imagination Should Be a Safe Place

The safety of imagination is a way to work through aggressions, life problems, insecurities and also just figure out who you are and where you belong. It should be safe to pretend to save the world as this kid no-doubt has seen his favorite super hero do.

Maybe he’ll grow up to be a soldier, a writer, or a filmmaker. What if the stifling of the imagination is also stifling the fire inside of him?

Instead of following his dreams he grows up to make safe choices that don’t really fit who he is—or was—but it pays the bills. Could this be what we are marching our children towards in a world of standardization and structure?

Imagination Games

Many of my favorite imagination games in a child involved violence. I used to have other children play “kidnapped” where we were taken at gun point, were held somewhere, and had to make our escape.

I’m not sure what psychological need was behind this game (coincidentally I was about seven). But I imagine a psychologist would talk in terms of working through your fears. I doubt the same harmless game would be allowed on playgrounds today.

A return to old fashioned values of playing

A return to old fashioned values of playing

Experts Agree

It seems that at least some experts agree with me. Rhonda Clemens noted in a 2005 article by Hayley Ringle that imaginative play allows children to take “healthy risks.” Apparently imaginative play allows kids to practice making decisions in a safe environment. Imaginative play allows a child to learn how to be a functioning adult through safe re-enactments. Therefore, imaginative play is an important part of growing up!

Clemens was the past president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play. The AACRP is an affiliate of the International Play Association. A child’s need to play is being recognized worldwide.

On Feburary 1, 2013, the UN adopted language about a child’s right to play into their convention on the Rights of a Child. The adopted article notes that a child’s right to free play and rest should be recognized and respected.

The problem of over-scheduled, stifled kids and the universal need for play and rest and imagination is recognized. So how can you help your own child to use her imagination? How can you create a safe environment for him to play and pretend and grow?

Cut Down on TV and Video Games

We are probably all guilty of turning on the TV a little too much when we need to get something done. Setting rules about TV viewing or game playing and sticking to it may get some groans out of your children, but it will also let them begin to explore their inner beings.

You can start with something as simple as letting them pretend to be some of their favorite characters from a TV Show, game or movie. I can’t even count the number of Star Wars character costumes my children wore and played in during their younger years. Instead of watching the movie or the show, they would go outside and pretend to be those characters, making up plot lines and ideas of their own.

Be Creative About Where You Play

You don’t always have to go to a playground to play. Sometimes a big open field, a beach or a lake can provide hours of enjoyment without the specificity of playground equipment. Even if you do go to a playground, allow the kids to use the equipment in imaginative ways (obviously with safety of the child and others in mind). Playing under a platform can become a hideout or club. Swinging with your stomach on the seat can let your child to pretend to be a bird or super hero, flying through the air.

Find Creative Toys

Toys that are played with in a specific way are fine but sometimes having open-ended toys that allow the child to create and explore are beneficial. Of course items like blocks or Legos are great for the imagination. Playhouses are fun and can have many uses beyond playing house.

Once, when it was windy outside, my kids and I made “bag kits” by using some lightweight string and tying it to the handles of old, plastic grocery bags. The wind would fill the bag like a sail and they would fly nearly as far as our balls of string would allow. If they tore up we could simply make more.

Balls, toy trucks, dolls and stuffed animals can also encourage imaginative play

Start a "Let's Pretend" Game

If your child is having trouble using his imagination, you can help him start the game--being careful to slowly begin to let him take the reins. Suggest that he pretend to be his favorite hero from a bedtime story, for example, and create a different setting for the character. You could ask your child what he thinks his hero would do on a rainy day at the house when he couldn’t go outside.

Sometime just a few suggestions will start your child down the path to a fun afternoon of imaginative play.

  • Letting Your Child Play
    Free play is an important part of childhood. Making sure your child has opportunities for unstructured play is important for his or her development.

There are many resources and studies that suggest that our children’s imaginations are being stifled. This could come at great cost for the child individually and for society as a whole. Making sure your child’s imagination is encouraged is an important part of his or her development into a happy and healthy adult.

So let's follow the little red trolley back to the Land of Make-Believe.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


L C David (author) from Florida on February 08, 2013:

Hi, yes I agree completely. It seems that we are not making time for children to think and explore and discover who they are. It's hard to balance everything while raising kids and everyone has a different idea about what is right. I think if we just make sure we take time to let kids make believe, we will all be better off. Thanks for your comment!

DemiT on February 08, 2013:

Hi and thanks for a great hub! Childhood without imagination is equal to a person without childhood!