Remember he plays the part of grown-up Peter Pan? A high-power executive who hasn’t the faintest recollection he and the Lost Boys used to fly all over Neverland with Tinkerbell blazing ahead of them?
Peter takes his family to London to stay with grown-up Wendy, and upon arrival she tells his children, “There is only one rule in this house… No growing up.”
They look at her with wide eyes.
“So stop,” she says. “Stop right now.”
That’s how I feel these days. About my 9 year old daughter, twin girls age 7, and twin boys age 5. I want them to stop growing. Not forever, like Neverland. Just for a while. So I can squeeze every ounce of joy from this season.
We’re a busy houseful, but happy. Most of the time.
We’re out of the baby, diaper, stroller stage. We can ride bikes together, go to amusement parks together, and build Legos together. It’s a beautiful thing. Until someone crashes on their bike, or wets their pants because we didn’t make it to the porta-potty in time, or yells, “I hate you Mom” in the grocery store.
Those days I find myself staring at a young mother, new baby curled over her shoulder, bitty fingers clutching her shirt, and I ache for that quiet closeness, those dented knuckles and chunky thighs.
But we can’t stop the clock. Our kids don’t want us to. And really, it’s remarkable what happens. They grow into helpful human beings who can read books, write love notes, and sing so sweetly I stop in the hallway to listen.
Nope, we can’t still time, but I believe we can stretch it out. Childhood, that is.
I believe in keeping our children young as long as we can. How? By encouraging silliness, imagination, and wonder.
There’s no need to hurry up the maturity. Watch an hour’s worth of commercials, walk through any mall, open a magazine in the check-out line. Growing up is all around them. They’ll get there soon enough on their own.
Sure, they need responsibilities at home, consequences so they learn, and structure. But those things will rule them the rest of their lives.
They are only children once.
So I was sitting at Back to School Night, listening to my girls’ second grade teacher talk about curriculum and expectations. I was surprised to learn many of the teachers at our elementary school are doing something different this year. They’re pulling away from homework packets.
Homework will consist of reading 20-30 minutes at home every day and practicing math facts, with homework pages sent home if a specific topic or principle needs extra work.
At school, expectations for performance and involvement will be high, but after they go home, they want kids to go to their piano lessons, soccer, dance, and simply be kids. Their teacher quoted Einstein saying,
“The greatest form of research is play.”
She then said that 98% of children age 5 exhibit creative, divergent thinking. That number plummets to 2% by age 25. (Research by Sir Ken Robinson. Listen here to his TED talk about how schools are undermining creativity.)
Robinson has a point. If we don’t encourage divergent, creative thinking, how will these kids take us into the next century? Who will launch us over the next technological or medical hurdle? Into new places of exploration, making the unknown known?
This teacher then showed us a video made by a group she works with called Kidnected. They believe in the value of exploration and imagination. They call it Wonderment.
By the end of the video I was fighting tears. A little embarrassed I was sniffling over my daughter’s desk, but thrilled that her teacher feels the same way I do about childhood.
I work at preserving wonder for my children.
We missed dance class last week to attend the local Fairy Festival. I buy supplies for my girls to build fairy houses and fairy gardens. I let them play in the river and get muddy (even when I cringe at the prospect of a long clean-up). I marvel over worms with my boys, pin the superhero capes on when they ask, and a few weeks ago, I even said yes to a roll of paper towels being strewn across the front yard and used for dress-ups.
It’s not always easy to say yes. I don’t do it all the time. But I do think about it. The magic of childhood. And how I can make it last, respect it, hold on to it.
I know the Huffington Post piece titled, I’m Done Making My Kid’s Childhood Magical, got a lot of buzz. I agree with it. No need to scour Pinterest for days when planning over-the-top birthday parties, make every treat a clever work of art, or fill our children’s days with “activities” we’ve contrived. Childhood is inherently magical, as Latidan points out.
But the tenor of the article made me a little sad. Why? Because magic isn’t there just for our children. It’s there for us too. If we choose to be a part of it.
By observing, engaging, and nurturing our children’s imaginations, not only can we preserve the magic, we can participate in it.
We can kneel next to them, pick up a piece of chalk, and write their name on the sidewalk. We can remember what it’s like to read by flashlight inside a blanket fort. We can sit next to them on a rocky trail and watch a lightning storm roll in from the west. We can climb up into the treehouse to share lunch, and see what they see for a change.
No matter the age, wonder brings joy. And when we experience it with our children, we tighten the parent-child relationship.
We rediscover that spark of wonder that exists in all of us.
QUESTION: What do you do to encourage wonderment, in yourself and in your children? What benefits have you seen? What strategies do you have for incorporating the idea of developing imagination amid the struggle to balance everything else life demands?
Image courtesy Rosemary Ratcliff / freedigitalphotos.net with graphics by Anna Jenkins.
Originally published October 17, 2014.