Play and Imagination

michael1Michael Vetere, is an Associate Professor at Illinois State University in the School of Theatre and Dance.  His focus area includes creative dramatics, puppetry, and the arts for early childhood and elementary education. In this post, he shares a message of inspiration for everyone working with young children. Read ahead for more!

When I was young I loved to make up games. All of the kids in the neighborhood would gather at “the rock” and we would create these imaginative games where we would have to capture something or get away from something. All of the games had drama with objectives and purpose. I had no idea that these “games” had so much purpose and value – I just loved to play!

Matter of fact… I still love to play – I guess that is why I chose theatre for a career! The theatrical and dramatic arts give me the freedom to laugh, cry, be scared, and even excited. Picasso said it best:

picasso artist

So how can we keep that childhood play alive in all we do? It just doesn’t have to be isolated in the dramatic arts. I say I’ve got the Peter Pan Bug – I don’t want to grow up! I want to stay young and play all the day…sounds a little “Winnie the Pooh” …doesn’t it? But it is true! When we play we activate our imagination, which informs creativity, which spirals into problem solving, inventing, and even socialization. True play, though free, creates structure. Our play changes as we grow-up, but it doesn’t need to vanish. We can keep play alive by exercising our imagination. Try this….

  • Be an investigator: Find an image and look at it….I mean really look at it…study it. Look for the details, the shapes and patterns, the little things. Then on a piece of paper write down what you saw, be specific. How did you do?
  • Change perspective: Imagine you are a bird or a squirrel…what would you see from flying above or from the treetops. How does size and shape change? If you could talk what would you tell yourself?
  • Sense memory: remember what it is like to eat your favorite fruit. What does it look like? Smell? Taste? See if you can activate all of your senses. Is your mouth watering?

When in doubt…daydream. When we have a strong imagination, anything is possible.

einstein imagination

Children naturally and uninhibitedly are able to access their imagination and we can learn from this engagement. I was recently with my nieces and nephew ages 4 and 6. Their imaginations and love of play is astounding. My niece (age 4) had a baby blanket that I put over her while she was laying down on her back. It covered her naturally from her feet to her chest. So I pulled it up to her chin. As I did, it exposed her feet. So I pulled it down over her feet which in-turn lowered the blanket back to her chest. She thought this was the funniest thing! So I continued to go back and forth with the blanket. Her genuine laugh was so rich and her appreciation of the mundane made her laugh so hard she began to cry. For the next day she kept asking me to do “the blanket thing.” It was such a wonderful experience and an experience that I would not have had if I was not “willing” to play. In just that simple act she became more aware of her body and how her body is growing as well as sense of well-being and the knowledge that she is loved and cared for.

Engaging in play is such a simple act; we just need to be open and ready to engage when the opportunity arises.

So, your challenge: Grow-up, but remain an Artist and Play on!


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