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Monday, August 19, 2013

Imagination: Is It Headed for the Endangered Species List?

by Monica Knightly (Reprinted with permission - original post can be read (along with comments at
Today’s post is going to be slightly off topic. Just slightly. But it is also going to be the most important post I’ve ever written. This rant has been forming for a few years now, but it took a little nudge from a column I read this past weekend to get me to finally commit my thoughts to the blogosphere.

Monica Knightley
Sunday’s New York Times ran a humorous opinion column by Jon Methven on the disappearing art of daydreaming and how we would all be much healthier in body and spirit if we occasionally indulged. As writers, you daydream. I know you do. Writers must daydream or nothing would ever be written. It is where we mine our imaginations and discover new characters and stories.

But, sadly, over the past five years or so I have met many, many people who have no imagination and cannot understand the meaning of imagination, what it is, why it is good, or what a person should do with it. And they rarely daydream, in the way you and I might daydream. These people have all been seven or eight years old. They have been my second grade students. And they are missing that integral piece of humanity and most importantly of childhood: imagination.

In his column Methven points to our plugged-in society, always connected to technology, as one reason for the current dearth of daydreaming. Think about it. When we stand in line at the store we don’t let our minds wander to places unknown, no, we take out our phones and check our email, or text someone, or try to kill little piggies with flying birds. And as sad as that is, with our adult, fully formed brains, it is much more frightening when it is our young children with their still-forming brains.

I know from listening to my students that playing outside is a rare occurrence. Playing a make-believe game more rare. Sitting and staring into space and wondering what is on the other side of the end of the universe? Never. They are too busy playing the latest video games. They are always plugged in. And when they aren’t plugged in they are being shuttled to soccer, dance lessons, scouts, Chinese lessons, karate class, piano lessons, baseball, art class, the list goes on. THEY HAVE NO DOWN TIME!

This lack of imagination started showing up during writing lessons, about five or six years ago. I’ve always prided myself with giving my students exciting, fun writing prompts. For years my students would write and write about the prompt, weaving together wonderful stories they were proud to share. But not today. Now I’m met with a chorus of “I don’t know what to write!” Or worse yet, children who simply sit and stare at the paper, utterly confused by the concept of using their imaginations to create a story.

So, I would sit with individual students and ask questions that I hoped would spark some creativity. I’d ask lots of What If questions. Or Have You Ever questions. But, no. Nothing would work.

While imagination is necessary for the creative arts like writing, it is also necessary for all of the sciences that improve our lives. Scientists of every type help save lives, improve lives, and protect lives by asking What If questions. By using their fertile imaginations. By daydreaming.

For today’s children to grow up and become the people who find the cure for cancer, or end global warming, or discover ways to feed our world’s growing population, or write the Great American Novel they must possess rich imaginations. They must learn to sit and wonder. To think. To play make-believe. And for that to happen the adults in their lives must provide the time to allow thinking, wondering, questioning. The adults must unplug their children and stop overscheduling them.

A few years back I started ending every Back To School Night speech with my talk about avoiding overscheduling children. I had seen plenty of stressed out little children who had a hard time focusing in school, and I simply had to tell the parents what their well-meaning super-scheduling was doing to their children.

But now I see it as reaching crisis level. I fear imagination is becoming endangered by our children’s overuse of technology, eg. video games, and by overscheduling their precious little free time.

If you made it to the end of this rant, you know I feel very strongly about this issue. Please send this link to parents you think may benefit from the message. Bring up the topic at dinner tonight. Mention it at Tommy’s baseball game tomorrow. Please just spread the word.

Thank you.


Shobhan Bantwal said...


I'm with you on this subject. I see my own grandkids over-scheduled by their parents. The kids end up more stressed and exhausted than energized or inspired. Like you, I too believe every child & adult needs some daydreaming time to recharge the mind and soul.

Nice post!

Monica Knightley said...

Thank you for your comment Shobhan. These over scheduled children struggle to listen, create, or socialize when they are in school. The greatest gift their parents could give them would be some downtime.

Sarah Raplee said...

You've made me sit up a and take notice, Monica! Thank you for sharing your experiences as a teacher, as well as your insight.

I have grandchildren and I will share your post with their parents.

Monica Knightley said...

Thank you Sarah. That is my hope--that each person who reads this shares the information with at least one parent.

Paty Jager said...

I agree. The local writers group I belong to holds a fourth grade picture book contest. Part of our participation is going into the classrooms and talking about how to come up with an idea and then write it out. It has floored me the last couple of years at how many children can't come up with an idea or even when they do figure out how to take a character on an adventure. It is sad. Growing up my younger brother and I spent hours making up adventures and playing with our Johnny West and Barbie dolls out in the orchard.

Luckily my adult children have good imaginations and don't allow their children too much time on the video games. In fact, they make video games a reward for doing other things.

Great post!

Monica Knightley said...

Yes, Paty, my best childhood memories are of the hours spent outside playing imaginary games. To do so felt as natural as the air I breathed. My hope and prayer is that parents will begin to let their children have this experience as well.

Your experience in the classroom is sadly familiar. Even when I give fun story prompts the children's eyes just glaze over. Imagination is obviously something we must exercise and I believe children need to spend more time unplugged and unscheduled and be allowed to exercise what should be fertile imaginations. Spread the word!

Cr8tive Mom said...

I agree. Nice post!

Anonymous said...

Couldn't have said it better myself! Great post and wonderful comments.

Milton Cheswick

Unknown said...

I totally agree, great post!

Monica Knightley said...

Thank you everyone for reading my gentle rant. Now let's go spread the word!

Diana Mcc. said...

I totally agree with your post. So many kids are over scheduled and have hardly any free time. And being plugged in during the free time tunes them out to society, playing and using their noggins. Great post.

Monica Knightley said...

I like that Diana: 'using their noggins.' Perfect! Thank you for the comment.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Good post, Monica. I'm afraid you're right about this. I will share, good luck with the campaign for imagination!

Genene Valleau, writing as Genie Gabriel said...

I knew my eleven-year-old grandson's stories were a good thing! He tells them so sincerely, you have to listen carefully to sort out reality from fiction. I think part of his life will be spent as a writer. :)

Judith Ashley said...

Monica, your 'rant' is spot on! I'm amazed at the schedules some children are on. Not only do their imaginations suffer, they are sleep deprived. There is Lots to be said for 'downtime'.

Margaret Tanner said...

Hi Monica,
I couldn't agree with your more. It is sad and frightening.