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As a young kid, we were all told it’s okay to use our imaginations. When I was in the 4th grade, I remember creating a treasure map. The group I hung out with weren’t the athletes. We loved to have fun. We went outside and followed our map to the step. Finally, we found our mark and started digging. It took us only a few minutes when we all looked at each other with shock. We found something! It looked like a small white box. Obviously, we chose to break it open instead of trying to dig the whole thing up. What we discovered was that it was a water line for a small building. It wasn’t the treasure we hoped for. Well, unless detention was the treasure. If that’s the case, then we struck it rich!
At one point in high school, I discovered the gift of imagination through writing. It was an escape from the harsh world I lived in. At home, things weren’t that great. Abuse was almost a weekly occurrence. I quickly learned that writing provided the mental vacation that I desperately needed. With my small notebook and a pen, I would write whatever came to mind. I would fill pages with stories of damsels in distress, high school geeks who were aliens, or whatever else popped into my head. Somewhere between then and adulthood I, just like most people, lost the adventure of using my imagination. What happened? Why did life have to get so serious?
Not too long ago, I was working with a group of children after school. Since I just got back into writing, I thought it was a great idea to teach these kids how to use their imaginations. They're kids. How hard can this be? I quickly discovered that they were easily distracted. Out of the almost 40 kids, I only had about three that could hold on to writing for most than 5 minutes. After about the 5-minute mark most of them would quickly fade away to talking among themselves. I knew I would have to approach this differently.
I walked in one day with a plan. One thing that always made me feel good was recognition. Incentivization would become my way of keeping their attention. I spent a few minutes selling this new plan to them. Alas, to my amazement, they loved the idea! Now, almost all of them were writing with passion. Their heads were down, and the pencils were racing. A few times throughout them writing I would hear someone giggle. I would look over and they were laughing at what they just wrote. Each of them seemed to be excited to be writing.
At one point, one of the kids were called on because their parent was there to pick them up. “Aw man! I wasn’t finished. See if I can stay for a few more minutes.” This kid is one of the athletic ones. He wrote a story of an intergalactic car race. Another girl wrote about pandas that had special powers and one of them wasn’t a real panda. As I read through their stories, what I discovered was that I could almost identify which kid wrote what. Their personalities came out in these stories. Some of them weren’t as detailed as others, but all of them were proud of what they wrote.
I haven’t worked with these kids in almost two years. While I was waiting to pick up my son, one of the kids I taught came up to me and asked me about his story.
“Mr. Robbie, did you keep my story?” he asked with excitement. “I wrote another story a few months ago. Can I bring it to you? This one is so much better than the one.”
“Dude, I would love to read it,” I responded. “Your first one about the athlete was incredible. I bet you have a lot of stories in you.”
He lit up like a Fourth of July fireworks show. The fact that I remembered his story made him so happy. He went on to tell me about how he is always thinking of stories. Sometimes when he is walking around with his parents, he will see something or someone and it will make him think of a new story. He was given the gift of imagination. He was reminded that it’s okay to let his mind wander.
Then there is another girl who is going into the 8th grade next year. She proudly told me about a story of hers that she is writing. With pride, she went into detail about the different wolves and what they represented. She told me how one would die and save the world, but his death was only the beginning of a bigger and better story. At one point she had tears in her eyes as she went on about the two who fell in love together. She, just like the other kid, was given the gift of imagination. She is known to be a little different. Giving her the gift of writing was something that allowed her to be herself without judgment.
In the end, what I learned is that imagination is something forgotten about at too young of an age. It’s become my passion to change the lives of these young kids. Imagination is something that we should always hold tightly within our grasps. Creative writing is something that isn’t pushed as much as it should be. Reading books has become a thing of the past as most children dive head first into technology. We must change this! I will change this!
While we become more focused on testing in schools, the next big idea could be locked inside the mind of our children. Will it be locked away forever along with their imaginations, or will we remind them what it’s like to dream big?