FAMILY MATTERS: Stir the imagination when they’re still young
“Children meet the problems of the world with their imaginations,” says bestselling author Walter Wangerin Jr., “and the fairy tale honors, feeds and abets the imagination.”
Stories that stir the imagination can also be moral stories that anchor our sons and daughters to that which is right and good. With this in mind, I’d like to suggest that you choose stories to read to your young children that will help them open up to the world of imagination. For instance, fairy tales like “Snow White,” “Cinderella” and “Pinocchio” depict goodness overcoming evil in a world of enchantment. Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” is a great story for boys and girls about courage and love. “The Chronicles of Narnia,” by C.S. Lewis, teach marvelous lessons of faith. The series can be your child’s passport to fantastic lands and extraordinary events.
For older children who like to read, I recommend westerns, such as Jim Walker’s “Wells Fargo Trail” series, and the “Saga of the Sierras” series by Brock and Bodie Thoene. And you can’t beat “The Red Badge of Courage” or “Call of the Wild” if you want to wet a child’s appetite for adventure and bravery.
Another way to stir young imaginations is storytelling. Ruth Peale, wife of the late spiritual writer Norman Vincent Peale, talks about her husband’s storytelling:
“When our children were small, for example, Norman spent hours telling them stories that he made up on the spur of the moment, right out of his head. This generally took place at the dinner table and the children could hardly wait. I remember one whole series that went on for months about three imaginary characters named Larry, Harry and Parry. These remarkable young people had a magic airplane that they kept in their pocket until they needed it. If they blew on it, like magic, it became large enough for them to climb aboard and take off. They would roar away to investigate a big, billowy cloud, or to fight with giants, or to live in the forest in the treetops, or to rescue princesses in distant lands. The magic airplane was very real and exciting . . . to our children.” (“Secrets to Staying In Love,” Thomas Nelson, 1984)
Plan a trip, a hike or a small building project together if reading to them or making up stories seems too childish for them.
“They were getting too old for ‘story time,’” said Bill, the father of two teenage kids. “I had to find something that would stir their imaginations — and at the same time be physically challenging enough to hold their interest and keep them engaged. So I decided we should all take up wilderness exploring. It wasn’t easy. The children were already in shape. But me, that was another story. I had to lose an initial 25 pounds. I stuck with it, though.
“We got a friend from church to help us train, who was an expert in this kind of thing. He knew just the right clothing and equipment to buy. Plus, he was really safety conscious — that made my wife feel a whole lot better. Especially when she heard he’d agreed to serve as a tour guide for our first trip.
“We took the Rawah Wilderness, a part of the Roosevelt National Forest in Colorado. While we were hiking up the West Branch Junction, we spotted a bald eagle circling high above Blue Lake. It was the first time, outside of a zoo, my kids and I had ever seen an eagle. And, so that evening, after we had set up camp and built a fire, my children pulled out pencils and drawing pads and tried to capture on paper the sight of that magnificent bird.”
You see, the benefits to your sons and daughters when you become an imaginative parent is that correction is easier to take when they’re hearing it from a guy or gal from whom they just heard a great story and because such family activities tell them that you really like them in spite of the fact that they just soaked their brother or sister with a hose and made them scream! You’ll also break the inertia that is the killjoy of fun. Your son and daughter will find family life so much more enjoyable when you become that I-can’t-say-what-will-happen-next kind of parent.
(This is a published article that appeared in “The Colorado Catholic Herald”, May 21, 2010.)