Do you remember that feeling you got as a child when you lost yourself in your own world? Got caught up in a make-believe game? You were the ruler of your universe, the fastest runner in the world, the discoverer of new lands, the nicest teacher out (because we all played schools right? Even though we were subjected to it every day, we wanted to pretend to be the teacher when we weren’t. Weirdos).
On the weekend the girls had their swimming lessons. They go one after the other, so that the cherub not lessoning gets a little play in the water park that’s at the pool centre. It’s pretty spesh. We feel like these virtuous parents, giving our kids a weekly outing, some fun and some important swimming lessons. Then we can take them home and do nothing for the rest of the day and still feel virtuous. Parent hack winning.
Every Saturday Miss SP does the same thing. She has her lesson, comes out to the splash pool and gets lost in a glorious game of ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’. She imagines that the little toadstools where water squirts out are wild bushes, and the water bubblers on the ground are long blade grass. She stomps and squelches in and around the obstacles, singing at the top of her lungs. When she gets to the water cave at the other end she squeals “It’s a BEAR!” and stomps and squelches back to the start of her story. Some days she’ll ad lib (like all good actresses do), and impersonate the bear, with a low menacing growl and a “I’m gonna get you!” bellowed.
While she’s happily stomping and squelching, I stand there beaming at her. I love how she gets so excited to be on her own little adventure, and seeing her little imagination in action is the best. THE BEST. I assume all parents feel this way when they see kids lost in their own world. But maybe that’s not really how we all feel?
On the weekend while Miss SP was bear hunting, she swam past another Mum, bellowing her bear growl bellow. The Mum looked at Miss SP with such a look of disdain I could almost hear her disapproval through her face. Miss SP tried interacting with this Mum, telling her about bears, and this Mum just raised her eyebrows at Miss SP and turned the other way.
I was gobsmacked. She did what?
Maybe I was wrong.
Maybe she wasn’t looking at Miss SP.
Except there were no other kids around her at the time, and Miss SP physically turned to talk to her.
My sleep deprived eyes were not deceiving me.
Now, I’m no la la Mum. I get kids can do annoying stuff, and I don’t expect anyone else to gush over my kid like I would.
BUT. When it comes to kids wanting to share their imagination with others around them, is that not something we should all celebrate? What happened to our village?
Imagination is the cornerstone of development. I’m not even making that shit up. It’s been studied and everything. Imagination and imaginative play is where so many things begin to develop- the understanding of real vs fictional, empathy, there’s the language element, and when they start to play imaginary games with others, the socialisation and turn taking aspects. This whole thing known as ‘theory of mind’ is put to the test- where children can start to understand that they might think differently to others, and that there are a range of perspectives to take. Pretend play and using imagination can also form the starting blocks of self regulation, delay of gratification, respect and emotional understanding. In a nutshell, imagination is important stuff that helps us develop into decent adults. Imagination can enhance problem solving skills, negotiation, conflict management and so much more. Who knew that playing doctors and nurses (the clean, Doc McStuffins version) could lead to so much amazeballs development?
And here’s the kicker. Research has found if imagination is encouraged by those around the child, and accepted, it can lead to greater imagination, enhanced curiosity and greater cognitive and learning skills. This includes adults at a swimming pool where a child using said imagination is trying to interact with them.
SO BE NICE TO THE KIDS WHO ARE PRETEND PLAYING FOR FUCKS SAKE
We’re so caught up in this individualistic society we’ve built ourselves into that we forget to support each other, and our children. After all, these little bellowing bear hunters are going to grow up to run the country we live in, make decisions on behalf of us, and possibly also wipe our geriatric butts. We need to be kind to these cherubs, and supportive when they want to share their imagination with us.
If you’re keen to learn a bit more about imagination and development, a neat little article can be found here and here is a cool bit of research on fantasy vs reality and imagination. If you want to help build that imagination of the child in your life, read here, but essentially talk, read, interact, support, and show interest. It doesn’t take much out of your life to do these things, but it can make the world of difference for the kids who want to show you their world.
And as for my Miss SP, while I was ready to throttle the eyebrow raising Mum, she didn’t bat an eyelid, instead happily swimming off to get lost in her own world yet again. She got it- some people will celebrate that stuff, and others wont and if they don’t she ain’t got no time for that. Such a champ.
Do you have any favourite imaginary moments as a kid? Would you encourage imaginative play in other kids in a public place?