For me, childhood outdoor memories include climbing a dogwood tree and flinching when I felt a caterpillar crawl across my hand, running barefoot through the hay field that was still wet and warm with dew and humidity, and picking and eating June apples with a little red headed girl from across the street. Most summer and autumn days we pretended we were characters from whatever book we were reading, spinning stories as we explored our backyards. We weren’t rushed, and we were free to explore and create out of enjoyment.
I’m sure many parents and teachers would agree that children of all ages need to experience those moments of meaningful play. Thankfully, at Cornerstone, we as teachers are encouraged to create opportunities for kids to play, or engage in mindful (not mindless) enjoyment in what God has created and humans have experienced and expressed in literature, art, drama, history, and science.
Teachers of various subjects have also found multiple creative ways to engage their students’ imaginations, and as a middle school literature teacher, I find myself creating opportunity to play mostly through creative writing and drama. Below is a description of some of my favorites.
When we read A Christmas Carol in seventh grade, my students write imaginary letters from Ebenezer Scrooge to a London Newspaper demanding the Humbug Award. Summer reading projects have included creating their own universe and story (for The Silmarillion), writing their own Screwtape letter, and writing a short story sequel to Huckleberry Finn. Readers of Shakespeare’s comedy A Midsummer Night’s Dream write letters from one character to another.
One year, I allowed my sixth graders to choose between The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Little Women. Students then worked in groups to create a scene between characters from both books. (What would happen if Tom Sawyer ever met Jo March?) In previous years, students have created their own skits from books like A Christmas Carol and The Swiss Family Robinson. Last year my students asked if they could dramatize a poem they were reciting called “The Walrus and the Carpenter,” and I let them. We assigned roles both onstage and backstage, and they experienced first hand (and leisurely) what it was like to plan, direct, perform, and prepare set, costumes, and make-up for a mini-play.
Finally, since learning doesn’t just happen in the classroom, I wanted to leave you as parents a few ideas for engaging your child’s imagination:
- Tell stories. Growing up, my grandma was always telling me stories about when she was a little girl. Take an evening, sit outside or somewhere comfortable in the house, and share some of your favorite memories.
- Listen to audio books and ratio theatre. Both of these provide another way for families to use their imaginations together whether in the car, or at home while smaller children draw, build with Legos, play with play-dough, or while the entire family plays cards or a board game. Some of my family’s favorites from Focus on the Family include: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Truth Chronicles, Anne of Green Gables, The Hiding Place, and C.S. Lewis at War.
- Act it out. This could take the form of charades or dressing up as a character for dinner. My family enjoys dressing up as dwarves and hobbits every September 22nd to reenact the first part of The Hobbit in which the dwarves show up unexpectedly at Bilbo’s for dinner. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, you might just create your own play.
*Originally written for and published by Cornerstone Academy, along with a student essay.