Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Club: Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child : Keep them Inside

When I was younger than seven, we lived in a house with a huge yard, with a few trees  in one corner along a drain ditch glamourously referred to as a creek.  Three of the trees had grown close together and we called them the "telephone tree" ... this was when there were telephone booths.  Our home was on a court (cul-de-sac if you will) with a service road far behind us with a few houses whose yards backed up to ours.  There were two houses along the side of our yard.  Only one house, the far corner, had a fence, so otherwise we had the run of the space because there were, shockingly, other children in the houses.  I still remember some of the names of the children: Carrie and Chrissy, Holly, The Twins and Mandy, Daniel, Benjamin, me and my brothers (who are also twins, but we were never the twins and Dawn).

There were two other houses on the court.  Behind the house opposite ours, there was a "woods" which to us, again, seemed immense, but in reality was small.  We played Dukes of Hazzard in the court on our bicycles, I was never Daisy no matter how much I begged.  We built snow forts there because there's a lot of extra snow plowed from the middle of a court.  The girls next door had a huge (at the time) wooden play set.  We played "Ghosts in the Graveyard" when it was getting dark.

My memories of being a small child are all outside, almost none inside.  Until the year we had a babysitter who loathed the out of doors, so we were always inside.  We had a babysitter because my parents divorced and my dad had custody.  We moved, when my dad remarried, to a slightly smaller lot with fewer neighborhood children and fewer outside things to do but walk to the pool.

So, there I remember inside.  Except at my grandparents' farm where we spent our mom's weeks in the summers.  Then we were outside a lot, swimming in their pond, playing in an abandoned corn crib (called our clubhouse), weeding their immense garden (not my favorite), and exploring the crab apple trees and tractor barns. 

I don't ever remember, as does Esolen, thinking big thoughts, being intrigued by nature, staring at the sky, being around animals other than sheep or dogs or cats.

Part of my problem with these sorts of books is that I think the writers are the exception to the norm; do most children enjoy wandering with their inmost thoughts on death and proving God's existence?  Are children really that introspective?  The examples he gives are wonderful, but I have to think something at home was done so the examples wished to think on Dante or other long thoughts.  That being outside wasn't by itself the solution.

As an adult, I'm more like that babysitter above, I don't really like outside that much.  In the winter, it is cold outside and inside I have a nice furnace.  In the summer, it is hot outside, and inside I have air conditioning.  I like reading books, I don't like bugs.  I've never liked gardening much, dirt is dirty you know. I have planted a garden some of the past few years and am currently planning one for this year (M-girl's wishlist: Herbs, Carrots, Red Peppers, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Eggplant, Green Beens, Peas, Lettuces, and Sunflowers).

We  don't have many other children at home in the neighborhood for the children to play with, although this coming summer will be better for the three to play together.  We have a few trees in our yard, but no squirrels and few birds. There's a woods (with a gravel path) close enough for me to walk with them.   We have had baby bunnies in our yard, but with our two retriever type dogs, we wonder at the bunny parents and their choices.  In suburbia, even the edges, open land to roam in is not really all that available ... it belongs to somebody.  

Excuses, Excuses.

I have a plan.  And it involves [gasp] zoos and parks.  And year round schooling.  I'm such a rebel.

We've always had a zoo membership.  We enjoy going for an hour or two, or the morning.  We enjoy meeting friends and wandering.  I think we're going to try more functional zoo trips.  Our Elemental Science studies will include studying animals, so for our Friday sessions, we'll try and spend a quantity of time at those exhibits observing and drawing.

One Friday a month (I'm starting small), we'll go to a local state park where there are a lot of undeveloped areas overlooking a lake, and we'll track an area for the year.  Maybe the fourth Friday each month? And then explore the park.  We don't have to go far, maybe 5 minutes by car. 

And I'll force all of us into our yard in the afternoons.  Maybe I'll take a book and a blanket and look at the sky.  Starting small, maybe I'll remember how I loved to be outside and recapture some of my childhood.

This post is for Cindy's Book Club Party.  If you want to know what the chapter was actually about, go there and feast on the discussion at various blogs ...


  1. I have wondered who is Esolen's audience and whether this approach brings converts or re-enforces the troops.

    Either way, I think it's worth the time and energy to read, contemplate and share.

  2. Interesting. I tend to "hibernate" in the winter. Seriously--I don't want to go outside at all if I don't have to, although I will bundle up to shovel. The boys like to help, and while I appreciate that, we only have one shovel at this point, so it leaves me standing in the cold ;-) I find we watch much too much TV/dvds in the winter because it's so cold and dark so early, but I do think we're pretty good about getting out a lot in the warmer weather. I remember playing outside lots with my next door neighbors, too, and riding my bike to my best friend's house, and even to work when I was in high school.

  3. You, rebel, you, Dawn! ;)

    I have had to train myself to like outside as an adult, so I completely understand. I think that when I first had children, it was all I could do to get my bearings on the inside work. Over time, inside became my habit, one I needed to break. Outside is good for health, too, and not just imagination. ;)

    With that said, I think that both year-round school and zoo passes can coexist with imagination. For instance, maybe having time to dream daily--to think thoughts without being rushed on to the next thing, to marinate in the story just read, to contemplate the sky--would be as valuable or even more valuable than a long summer break.

    We do not have a zoo in our town (though we do have a place that rescues raptors and other indigenous animals that have been injured, I suppose), so that is not available to us. But I like to think that we could go to the zoo and enjoy seeing those animals, while still enjoying the robin on the branch or the duck in the pond. It seems to me the point is to have an interest in, perhaps even a reverence for, the things God has made. Knowing the names of the trees in our yard is just as important as seeing the giant sequoias, but I don't think that means we should skip the sequoias if we have the opportunity to see them! :)

  4. Regarding children and deep thoughts: I think it depends somewhat on the personality of the child. I was a very introspective child, who spent a lot of time with her thoughts, sometimes deep, sometimes not so deep. :) My kids don't seem so introverted (that's an understatement!), but they will say things from time to time that let me know they are thinking serious thoughts. Mr. D, for instance, is very concerned with the concept of hell and people going there. It may depend too, as you said, on what is going on in the home of the child. I do think that being outdoors and seeing God's creation encourages deep thoughts about life and God (thinking of his quote from Psalm 8).

  5. I suppose what is hanging in the air is the question what is the imagination. Perhaps, when taken alone none of the 10 things would kill the imagination but when bundled up to create the new childhood they are lethal.

    I have always preferred being outdoors than in and I think it may have to do with avoiding tasks.

  6. @ Dana ... I think it is mostly reinforcement; these are thunks I've thought before, it is the putting them into *actions* that is hard.

    @ Michelle ... I think one of the problems is that there are so few "next door neighbors" who are home and/or have children ... and the children that there are tend to be at school.

    @ Brandy ... I'm telling you, I feel like a rebel. I appreciate your support :)

    @ Anna ... I've been thinking about Psalm 8 a lot recently, it just sort of keeps popping up (Bible for the kids this week). Think someone's trying to tell me something? I think you're right, it depends on the children and it depends on the home.

    @ Cindy ... Oh, I do my share of avoiding tasks (I have at least 5 baskets of laundry washed in need of folding and my kitchen is a disaster zone), I just surf or read.

    Several people have brought up looking for a definition of "imagination" at various posts around the book club and I don't think he necessarily means what, I at least, have always thought it meant.

    Maybe I'll think on that some.


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