The Simple Joy of Imagination Imagination--all you need is a box and a stickWe learn early on as parents how susceptible our children are to the influences of the world around them, particularly our current over-commercialized, media-saturated one. Now, I try hard to balance my own kids’ time beetween school, outside play, reading, etc. and “screen” time of any kind (TV, computer, video games…) but I’ll be the first to admit that screens make for great babysitters when Mom has work to do. I hate to say it, but I know my kids watch more TV and play on the computer more than they should. That being said, however, I am trying my best to keep them living in a world that is open for imaginative play, choosing toys and dress-up clothes and games that foster creativity, that steer clear of “licensed characters” (or other things that might set artificial boundaries on their world of play) whenever possible.

So when Maryanne mentioned that her son wanted to be a superhero for his birthday, we started planning a party that would be all of those things. We wanted to provide an open space for the imaginations of six five-year-olds to run wild. (Note that we wanted the minds to run free, not the bodies!) We knew right away that if we could get them to choose their own identities (i.e., name themselves) they would come up with their own powers and special abilities and thus be free to pretend their own stories. There was a palpable sense of release from the strictures of commercialized, mediatized play when the kids at Jack’s birthday knelt down by the table to choose their own superhero name. And so everything we created, from the capes to the games to the cake, was meant to allow the partygoers the freedom to choose and play.

Birthday parties often become iconic in childhood memories. Kids don’t always remember what presents they got, but chances are, they’ll remember what they did. In her excellent book on childhood and imagination, The Brightening Glance*, Ellen Handler Spitz speaks about birthday parties and identity exploration. She says,

It is sad that so many American parents celebrate their children’s birthdays in commercial venues – at fast-food restaurants, for example, or amusement parks – where everything is standardized and predictable, because…these events, after a while, bore even the children who attend them. They seem a lost opportunity for imagination and creativity. After all, a birthday is a celebration of the existence in this world of a particular individual. […]Unlike nearly all other holidays, which concern groups of persons, a child’s birthday is really all about honoring just one. To stamp the party somehow, even in small ways, with the uniqueness of that birthday child is to endow it with important meaning, not only for the child, but also for all the other children who attend.

What we are hoping is that some of the things we have created might be of interest to someone in your family – or even that the process we followed to create this party gives you ideas for something completely different that you’ll create for your special little one! The anticipation, the preparation, the process of the birthday party is just as exciting as the Mentre gioch erete il Free Spins Round, la natura dei simboli Wild cambiera. event itself. So use our games, or create your own. Use our monsters, or invent your own. Any birthday event that encourages children and their friends to explore the world in a different way or to use their imaginations, is a step towards helping our children see the wonder-full world around them.

And I think we’ll be writing more about this idea in the future, because birthday parties aren’t the only times when I would like to encourage my kids to be more creative. I have so many fond memories of playing with my friends outside for hours on end, begging my mom to let me play even when the summer sun had set below the tree line, leaving the perfect twilight shadows for catching lightning bugs and playing kick the can. I want my kids to have those memories, too! I hope they will remember inventing new games to play, pretending to be a fashion designer making clothes out of paper sacks, or setting “traps” as a spy to capture double-agent neighbors. I’m reminded of one of my favorite poems by Marci Ridlon** about childhood and the simple but wonderful joys of imagining:


To Johnny a box
is a house
or a car
or a ship
or a train
or a horse.

A stick
is a sword
or a spear
or a cane,
and a carpet
is magic,
of course.

Perhaps it is too ambitious to assume that I could give my children a box and a stick and expect them to have hours of adventurous fun in the front yard like little Johnny. However, I think it is not too ambitious to assume that my kids are capable of such exciting imaginings given the right kind of environment and encouragement – on a birthday, or any day.

*Ellen Handler Spitz, The Brightening Glance, Imagination and Childhood. Pantheon Books, 2006.

** “Johnny” by Marci Ridlon in Read Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young, Selected by Jack Prelutsky. Knopf, 1986.

Categories: Main Superhero Issue

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About Shelley

I have four young children, so the things that I have a knack for are most often connected to my family. I love the performing arts and storytelling and nature, and I really love teaching in any form. (And I secretly dream of writing children’s books someday.) Learn more about me here.

3 thoughts on “The Simple Joy of Imagination

  1. sharlee

    I don’t think it’s too much to wish for. I wrote a blog post about how valuable sticks are at my house. Who would have thought it matters as to the shape, size, sharpness, etc… of a stick to determine it’s value. I love that kids can still imagine a world beyond the tv., video games, and computer. Good luck on your newest venture Shelley I think it’s wonderful!!

  2. Shelley Post author

    Thanks for the encouragement – we’re pretty excited about this, it’s true. And Sharlee, your comment made me laugh because the back of my van is always full with rocks and sticks that are “too special” to be left at the park or the hike or wherever we’ve been recently!


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