Posts Tagged ‘imagination’

TV-Turnoff Week: Take the Challenge!

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Take the challenge—keep your TVs turned off this week. After you go through that initial media-withdrawal, you just might see a glimpse of the possible rewards of a TV-free lifestyle, most notably having more time to really connect as a family.

Continue in the spirit of TV-Turnoff Week by scheduling one unplugged day or evening a week when the only things you’re tuned into are each other. Chinaberry can help you to unplug from electronics and tune into family and community. Check out our wide selection of games, crafts, activity books, puzzles, and outdoor/active play toys and free yourself from TV for at least one day a week.

Words of Wisdom from Eda J. LeShan

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

“In all our best efforts to provide “advantages” we have actually produced the busiest, most competitive, highly pressured and over-organized generation of youngsters in our history — and possibly the unhappiest.”

– Eda J. LeShan

Thinning Out the Garden and Our Lives

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Spring finds me out in my garden every chance I get. Nothing is as nourishing to me as working the warm soil, seeing new growth on trees, and stumbling across new shoots of plants that looked all but dead in the torrid days of August. Few other things are as much of a delight as receiving my order of seeds from my favorite seed catalog, sketching the vegetable garden layout, and then preparing the soil. My son, Evan (a.k.a. Mr. Dirt), loves to help me. He’s the self-appointed organizer of the earthworms, and as we move along digging in the soil, he picks up every one, says something admiring to it, then places it exactly where he thinks life will be good to it. The cats drop by to visit us, mourning doves touch down a safe distance away to check us out, and if I hear our phone ringing, too bad. When I’m in the garden, I’m immersed in another world.

When it comes time to plant the seeds, the dirt is so fine and smooth that all we need do is run our fingers through it, making a shallow line. Evan’s the expert at distributing the seeds, and does so one by one, no matter how tiny they are. (Last year, he admonished me for shaking the seeds directly from their package into the soil, explaining that each seed needs to be touched by the person planting it. “That makes sense,” I think to myself.) So the seeds go in, the rows are reasonably straight, I note in my gardening journal exactly what went where, and finally we lightly mist the soil, wishing the seeds a healthy life. Few times during a year do I feel as alive, as accomplished, as good as I do when I’ve planted my garden with care. Then, about two weeks later, the sprouts appear, and soon it’s time to thin the seedlings according to package directions.

Now, as anyone who gardens knows, “thinning” means plucking out sometimes three quarters of the baby plants so that the ones left will have enough room to grow. It’s my least favorite part of gardening. In fact, most of the time I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t simply discard what turns out to be most of the seedlings-healthy seedlings-that have sprouted, at my beckoning, in the soil I’ve so carefully prepared. Nope. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. “Somehow, they’ll all manage to survive,” I tell myself. But, of course, what always happens is that as the plants grow, they eventually crowd each other out. Not having the space or nutrients they need, all of them become less pest- and disease-resistant. Gnarly and mottled, they die an early death, and even though I know from experience that this will happen, I still can’t bring myself to thin the rows of seedlings.

Yesterday afternoon, as I scrutinized the dense new strips of one-inch tall sprouts, I was struck by the similarity between those crowded rows and a pitfall of modern family life. In an effort to expose our children to the right things, we expose them to too much, in hopes that a few of their encounters will “take.” But what really happens is that life gets too crowded and nothing really flourishes. It just seems to be made up of a bunch of experiences, all of which turn out to be shallow, because there is no time in between them. There is no time to daydream; no time to be with one experience (or toy or whatever) before the next experience is plopped in front of them; no time to dig deeply enough into anything and realize that it could grow to be a passion if it were well-tended. It is so easy to lose focus of the fact that just as seedlings simply need good soil, the right environment, and room to grow, children have equally simple needs: love, respect, and space to be themselves. Life can get so cluttered, and then it’s hard to thin it out- just like my rows of seedlings.

Early this morning, before it was light, I heard the unmistakable sounds of one of our neighborhood skunks rooting through the garden. I sneaked out our bedroom door and sat for a long time on the steps in the warm night air, straining to see him (her?) in the darkness. I didn’t want to scare him away, for I knew he was up to something very important, indeed. In dawn’s first light, he finally left, and I made my way over to the garden, knowing what I would find. Sure enough, he’d been feasting on grubs and things, and in doing so, had uprooted most of my seedlings. Granted, the job wasn’t quite as orderly as I’d have done it (had I ever done it), but my rows were now thinned, and each plant would have enough space, soil, sun, and fresh air in which to thrive. I chuckled, and wondered if some giant skunk would ever lumber into my life and thin it out!

The Art of Storytelling

Sunday, March 8th, 2009
Nova (Ali's daughter) asleep with Gus-Gus after storytime

Nova (Ali's daughter) asleep with Gus-Gus after storytime

Don’t forget the magic in a came-from-your-own-heart, straight-out-of- your-imagination, in-your-own-words story. The “Mommy (or Daddy), tell me a story” kind of story. It’s a completely different experience from reading a book to your child and I heartily recommend it!

Some of our family’s closest times together revolved around that kind of thing. There was a stately old beat-up chair in toddler Elizabeth’s room that she named “The Story Chair,” for it was where she sat every single night while I told her the animal-filled, gentleness-infused original tale of Whoopie the Whale. (The story was really lame, but she absolutely insisted on it at both naptime and bedtime.) And then there was Evan, whose taste in stories I never quite got a handle on until I learned to routinely ask him to tell me three things he wanted his story to be about that night. (His answer was generally along the lines of “a boy, a policeman and a robot” or “a snake, a bomb and a boy.”) Within about ten minutes, I’d told him his made-to-order story, he’d drifted off and I was left in the quiet of the night to caress his back, run my hand through his hair and be full of wonder at the lessons he was teaching me, my heart welling over with love for this tired little boy.

Building Character While Playing Characters

Wednesday, January 7th, 2009

My 11-year-old son was in a play last week. For years, friends had been telling me what a great experience this theater program was and how much their kids enjoyed participating in it. I’m not sure why, but in my mind I pictured spoiled child stars, overly-doting parents, and cramming rehearsals into an already packed schedule. In short, I could not see much positive coming from the whole experience.

Imagine my surprise when I found myself talking with the program’s director at a neighborhood park one day. He explained that the emphasis in the productions was not on the singing and dancing or who was the star of the show, but on responsibility, character, and leadership. Now I started getting interested! Not that I don’t value singing and dancing, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s the real life lessons that I value most.

So Ben auditioned for the play and made it. The weeks just flew by until it was time for the scheduled performances. The kids were busy, and the parents were even busier since it was an all-volunteer production. On the final night before the last performance, I found myself sitting in a room with all of the performers while the director gave them suggestions. After having seen the play from lots of different angles—as a parent, from backstage, from the audience —I expected to hear him tell them not to miss a certain cue, to sing out more during this scene, or something of this sort.

Instead, what he said has stayed with me a long time, and in fact, I don’t think I’ll ever forget it. (more…)

Cultivating the Imagination

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009

Imagination lies at the heart of being human. Without imagination, life has no meaning and no sparkle, problems remain unsolved and life becomes flat. While giving lip service to the importance of imagination,
our culture does much to dampen our children’s imaginative abilities. Toys that have only one answer, prepackaged entertainment (i.e., television, videos and many computer games), schooling that involves too
much rote memorization, and even the negative, fear-based attitudes that pervade our culture all deaden our children’s ability to live in the imaginative world. If ever we have needed imagination, it is now. Imagination is the key to solving our world’s problems. As Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” All the knowledge in the world won’t fix anything unless we have the creativity to imagine new solutions and new ways of living.

As parents, we have so many ways to foster our children’s imagination. I guard my children’s imaginations like a jealous hound, for I know that the more we encourage our children to exercise their creativity, the stronger learners they will become. Allowing our children the time to experience hours of fantasy play and hours of outdoor play with a minimum of toys, and even giving them plenty of opportunities to be bored without rescuing them, fosters our children’s creative abilities. When we fill our house with the materials to make things (and it is remarkable what they will create out of string, sticks and boxes!), and we allow our children the freedom to make messes and mistakes with these materials, their imagination will lead them to amazing heights. The more tightly we structure days and close off the opportunities for openended play, the harder it is for our children to strengthen their imaginative muscles.

When making decisions that affect our children’s day, do we keep imagination in mind? If we send our child to day care, how much time does that facility dedicate to open-ended play? If we are home with our children, are we home long enough each day for them to fall into the land of make-believe deeply enough that they almost forget about the real world? When we buy toys, do we look for toys that engage our children’s imaginative capacities? The simple choices we make over and over again will facilitate or dampen our children’s relationship with the imaginative world.

[Reprinted from Under the Chinaberry Tree with permission from Random House Publishing.]

Words of Wisdom from Madeleine L’Engle

Saturday, November 15th, 2008

“Human beings are born with a great deal of creativity, and by the age of twelve, we’ve lost most of it. The world just slams it out of us. Our teachers and parents tell us that what comes from our imagination isn’t true; it’s just “imaginary.” I think that what’s imaginary is truer than what’s “real.” Adults prefer facts, because facts are limited. Like truth, imagination is unlimited, so many people are afraid of it.”
—Madeleine L’Engle