Friday, March 4, 2011

Active Imagination

For Lucy, the little fox who stars in Red Wagon by Renata Liwska, the stress is on the “active” in “active imagination.” As she takes an action (going to the market on an errand for her mother), she uses her surroundings to feed her fantasy and transform a chore into a pleasurable experience. It starts to rain, and Lucy imagines the red wagon as a ship, and rescues a raccoon pirate. We see all of her friends joining in to play a part.

When we were kids, we often staged plays in which everyone took a part, helped figure out the scenery and props, created makeshift costumes from castoff clothes or old sheets. We’d go exploring in the woods and build lean-to forts from large branches and sizable pieces of fiberglass we’d find. We’d make igloos after a large snowfall. Our parents would say, “Go outside and get some fresh air and exercise.” That’s what Lucy and her friends are doing. They’re exercising their imaginations along with their bodies, and each of them takes a role in the imagined scenes.

As a huge fan of technology, I recognize how it has freed me up in myriad ways, given me access to quantities of information in a moment that in the past would have taken hours to compile, and it allows me to stay in touch with people on the other side of the country. But as a former teacher, I do wonder if children get away from the computer and TV and their electronic games often enough, to go outside and play--exercise their minds in a different way, spontaneously making connections and choices in concert with other children. Even Albert Einstein took his dog for long walks.

Lucy demonstrates that we need very little to create a big adventure. She turns what could have been a dreary errand into an exciting journey, and inspires all of us to do the same in our own lives.

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