“We stood there, in the region between the world and the play-thing, in the place created in the beginning for a pure act.” (Rilke R, Mitchell S, Hass R. The selected poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. 1989)
On a hot summer day, it rains in a child’s head. They are in the bathroom, with their rubber duck, sometimes floating across the seven seas and fighting off pirates to find the long- lost treasure hidden in the darkest depths of the ocean. Other times they are pilots who are way ahead of our time. They can land planes on any surface at any angle at any time.
Imagination induces creativity and is found in every nook and cranny of life. In the book The Childhood, Boyhood and Youth, Leo Tolstoy writes about a long winter evening when he and his siblings decked out armchairs with shawls, turning them to carriages and setting off to travels. The character of Winne-the-Pooh was loosely based on a Soft Toy Christopher Milne possessed. It was brought to life along with his other toys in the Winne-the-Pooh stories written by his father, A. A. Milne. Milne was inspired by the way his child – on whom Christopher Robin’s character was based – played with his soft toys. Even in games set on rules such as Monopoly, you are required to play pretend when you end up in jail, go broke or find yourself in Edinburgh Castle.
So why does imagination play such a big role in our lives?
Toddlers use imagination to understand the real events of life. A toddler would pretend to drive a car or parent a doll to mimic the movements of people he/she is around. The repetition of mimicry helps them understand the world better. Through pretend plays, toddlers are exploring emotional and social roles, like the role of a doctor or a teacher. They are negotiating, thinking in various perspectives, making strategies and communicating in an environment they have created. These pretend stories with pretend characters in a pretend environment teach real-life lessons.
Imagination can be built on the simplest of things. A dull-looking rock can be regarded as the philosopher’s stone or a tree can become the tree of life. Toddlers can be in their own world for hours thus this aspect of imagination should be strengthened and enriched with the help of other creatively engaging activities.
Reading enhances imagination. Many of those who have read the Harry Potter Series delegate themselves to houses and take sticks for wands. Disney turns kids to princes and princesses, brave knights and heroes with capes.
Apart from reading, music has also proven to foster imagination. Do you avoid listening to music when you are involved in a particular task like reading, writing, etc.? This is because music has the ability to direct your thoughts elsewhere. We tend to imagine stories, situations and events while listening to music. Toddlers do not just sway to the tune of their favourite song; they attach themselves to words and represent it in physical forms. Their body movements and expressions while reciting a poem or singing a song comes straight out of their imagination.
Providing toddlers with lots of props and toys can also stir their imagination. Kitchen sets turn them to chefs or hosts of tea parties. They would become teachers to a group of dolls and pilot to soft toys.
The way toddlers perceive the world is very different from the way we do. They may use imagination to seek answers to questions about the world or to even cope with certain fears. They form a cause and effect relationship in their head with every experience. Ergo, the ability to imagine should always be nurtured and encouraged in toddlers