Are our children losing their imaginations?
I received a really worrying email yesterday. It worried me so much that I spent a lot of yesterday thinking about it, mulling it over in my mind, imagining what it might mean.
This is ironic actually, considering the email’s content. The Forestry Commission, those nice folk that look after our dwindling forests, surveyed 2,000 parents of school-aged children and found that 90% of them think children are losing their imaginations by the time they’re ten.
I was still creating worlds within worlds well beyond that age. Watching Curly Girl making up Scooby Doo adventures with her Shaggy and Velma figures this morning at the breakfast table it was hard to believe that in a few short years she could be too old for this important fun.
Indulging in a little make believe has long been thought to have far-reaching developmental benefits for children: Albert Einstein wrote about the importance of fairy tales in boosting children’s intelligence and the child psychotherapist Bruno Bettelheim believed fairy tales helped children develop independence and key social skills such as empathy.
As well as providing important moral lessons, fairy tales create a space where children can vent complicated feelings, explore their wildest dreams and confront their fears about the big bad monster, finding a way to decipher good from evil and resolve conflicts. (There’s an interesting article about this at Reader’s Digest.)
So it’s really worrying that of the 2,000 parents of school-age children surveyed by Forestry Commission England, nearly three quarters think that today’s children play outdoors less than they did as children and half (51%) believe this directly influences how much imagination they have. Nearly half (43%) thought that children today are less imaginative than they were as children. A further 37% admitted that their children don’t create their own games using their imaginations and over a quarter (28%) reported that their children rarely or never make up stories.Three quarters think children spend too much time on computers and games consoles and over half (55%) think the rise in technology use is also responsible for children’s lack of imagination.
I wonder what these parents are doing about this? I wonder if they are limiting their children’s TV viewing time, shutting down the games consoles and taking them outside to play? I hope so.
If they are then they could do worse than take them along to one of The Forestry Commission’s Fairy Tales events this Summer. The Forest Fairy Tales campaign is inviting parents and their children to enjoy the magic of the forest throughout 2013 with events taking place across the country including fairy trails, sculpture making, picnics, crafts and story walks across various Forestry Commission sites. The Commission hopes to engage a whole generation of youngsters in imaginative outdoor play and reverse perceptions many parents have about their child’s interest in the world of pretend.
Rachel Giles of the Forestry Commission said:
“Forests are the perfect backdrop to inspire children’s imaginations as many of the most exciting fairy tales are set in the woods, and Forest Fairy Tales will encourage children to explore new worlds using their imaginations, becoming Little Red Riding Hood, a brave knight or a wicked witch.
“Our research shows that many children aren’t engaging in outdoor play to the same extent as their parents did, and we must work harder to encourage those young people to go outside and use their imaginations before the joy of make-believe and pretend is lost forever.”
To find out more about the The Forest Fairy Tales campaign and to download free online activity sheets visit www.forestry.gov.uk/fairytales .
Do you worry about your children’s use of imaginative play? Do you think your children are less imaginative than YOU were when you were young?