One of my favorite things I do with my daughters (ages 2 and 5) is have "adventures." These can only be described as intense times of imagination play where we immerse ourselves in a world we create. It is part theater, part role-play, and part creative storytelling. I had assumed that this was a normal parent-child activity but conversations with my wife, other parents, and other children have led me to believe that what we do might fall out of the realm of what is the norm.
I feel strongly that a well developed and agile imagination is a critical skill for the future my children are going to be living in and I look for every opportunity to grow and nurture it in my kids. "Adventures" are just one way we do this. What I do know is that they are not likely to have this aspect of their intelligence nurtured enough in school. Our "adventures" are also a way of helping them to make connections between other things they encounter and what they already know. My hypothesis is that this activity has the same effect as dreaming, only it is done while the child is conscious thus acting as a bridge between the conscious and subconscious mind allowing them to make use of more of their brain while awake. I don't know if there is any way to prove this but I hope over the next few years to collect enough evidence to draw some more definitive conclusions.
I have decided to start a journal of the adventures we have together as a new series on my blog titled "Imagination Adventures." The purpose of this journal is four-fold: 1. to provide for my children a record of the adventures we have so that some day they might discover them and keep active the spirit of the activity; 2. to keep a log of how our "play" evolves and how it appears to affect my kids; 3. what we come up with in our "adventures" might evolve into something else over time (children's book, cartoon, paintings, etc.) and 4. I am publishing the account of our adventures in hopes that others might share "adventures" with their own children.
Space Pirate Witches
We usually start our adventures out in the girls' castle, which is a large nylon tent-like play structure that sits in the corner of their room. This castle is large enough for all three of us to sit in and has a top open to the air above it. The girls keep all their stuffed animals in the castle including a puppet frog aptly named "Frog." Frog has a gruff Jersey accent, which to my kid's Minnesota ears sounds rather funny. Frog starts each adventure by asking the girls about their day and if either of them have heard any good stories or jokes. Christiane (my 5 year old) has, over the past year, actually come up with some pretty good jokes during this activity. My favorites are:
Q: Why couldn't the sink see very well?
A: Because it had dirty glasses.
Q: When is a car not a car?
A: When it turns into a driveway.
Of course, most of the jokes they make up are nonsense but Frog thinks they are funny.
After sharing our day, telling stories, and telling jokes Frog asks the girls what kind of adventure they want to go on. Frog knows a lot about adventure land and is our guide through most of our travels but he doesn't know everything and often he will admit when we are entering territory he has never explored. This particular evening Makayla (my 2 year old) said she wanted to go to space and Christiane said she wanted to go on a pirate adventure. Frog told them that he knew of some space pirates that lived in solar systems that surround some of the glow-in-the-dark stars they have on their ceiling. He told them that we could go there and that secretly, the castle was also a space ship...that by pressing an imaginary button the castle would transform into a rocket that could launch them into space. Both girls thought this adventure sounded good so we set off on our adventure.
I told the girls that we needed to count down from ten to one in the launch sequence and when we got to zero Christiane would have to press the blast-off button on the control panel. Makayla surprised us all by knowing how to do this and led us in the countdown. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 blastoff! The castle-rocket shook while it struggled to exit the atmosphere. As it did, I turned off the light in the room to simulate our entry into space. Suddenly all the glow-in-the-dark stars appeared and we picked the one we would fly to. Christiane set the course and we settled in for the long journey to the next solar system.
Frog took this time to tell the girls what he knew about space pirates. He said they are like the pirates we encountered on other adventures on the sea but they flew space ships. He told them that they were quite advanced and that the other inhabitants of the planets in their solar system found them to be a nuisance. He also told them that there were many different kinds of space pirates and that beyond that he didn't know much about them or how they were different from the ones on the sea.
As we approached the space pirate solar system we picked out a blue planet to land on and explore. We braced for a rough landing. When we landed we discovered that the whole planet was water. Suddenly, our castle spaceship began to sink. We had to abandon it quickly and brave swimming in the sea and hope that the downward pull of the ship would not suck us under. Makayla spotted a boat (we had many times used beds as boats in our prior adventures). We all swam to the boat, got on, and collected ourselves.
Surveying the situation, we realized that there was no land in sight and quite possibly there was no land on this planet at all. Frog discovered some imaginary fishing poles in the boat.
Christiane: "That must mean that there are fish on this planet. Whoever abandoned this boat here must have been fishing. I wonder where they are."
Makayla: "Lets go fishing!"
So, we cast out our lines and in no time at all Christiane had the first fish.
Me: "Alien fish? I wonder what they taste like."
Makayla: "Mine tastes like chocolate!"
Christiane: "Mine tastes like pumpkin pancakes."
Me: "Mine tastes like frog legs."
Frog (in an angry but annoyed voice): "Hey, how do you know what frogs taste like?"
We fished for a while until we had all the alien fish any of us could eat. Then Christiane noticed that the boat we were on was actually a submarine. We decided to take it down and explore what was under the sea.
Under the sea we noticed an area in the distance that glowed. We decided to take our submarine closer for a look. On closer inspection it was an underwater city. Beep! Beep! Beep! A machine in the sub was indicating that we were being hailed. Frog told Christiane to turn the speaker on. A voice came over the speaker, "You are entering Holtian waterspace. Please identify yourselves."
Makayla: "Makayla, Daddy, Sana, Frog"
Christiane: "Who are you? Where are you? I can't see you."
Voice: "My name is Merlin. I am a Holtian of the wizard class. You can't see me or any of our people because we have evolved over years invisibility. It protects us against space pirates."
Me: "May we have permission to enter your city?"
Merlin: "Sure, let me clear you and you can enter at docking station number 42."
To enter the docking station the submarine had to drop below it and raise up slowly into a pocket of air inside a large bubble-like structure. When we got out we were greeted by our host who said that the Holtian people are kind but very shy. None would be likely to speak with us. He asked us how we came to be driving one of his submarines. We explained that we found it when our ship sank. He told us that a crew of Holtians discovered the ship. When it sank, it only landed a few yards away from their city. It would be a few minutes before it would be ready. He offered the repairs free of charge if we would promise to get the pirates to leave his planet. He offered us imaginary cookie dough to snack on while we waited for the repairs (eating imaginary food has always been a favorite imagination play and part of most of our "adventures." We also eat imaginary food when we go out to eat at restaurants and the girls are hungry, fussy, and having trouble waiting for their food).
When the ship was fixed we quickly boarded and prepared for lift-off. Makayla again led the countdown. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 blastoff! This time, when we reached space we were hailed by one of the space pirates. Frog asked the girls what kind of pirates they thought they would be. Christiane said she thought they would be witches.
Me: "We better answer their call."
Christiane: "I'm scared."
Makayla: "I want to go fishing and eat cookie dough."
Christine (answering the hail): "Hello"
Space Pirate Witch: "Hello my pretties. Prepare to be boarded."
Frog: "Oh no! What are we going to do?"
Christiane: "Quick, eat some cookie dough. It will make us invisible."
Space Pirate Witch: "Where is the crew? I wonder if there is any hidden treasure on this space ship."
After looking around, the Witch gave up her search and went back to her own vessel.
Christiane: "Lets go home! Quick!"
Frog: "Punch in the coordinates"
Me: "Oh no, it looks like the Space Pirate Witch is following us through hyperspace. We have to figure out how to get rid of her."
Christiane: "If we had a house we could drop it on her."
Me: "That would only work if there were gravity. In space there is no gravity."
Christiane: "If we flush the toilet in the spaceship the water will fly out the back an melt her."
Me: "It's worth a try."
Christiane ran to the bathroom and flushed the toilet pretending that the bathroom was in the castle. The trick worked. The witch melted and didn't make her way to Earth where she could wreck havoc on our solar system. We landed and decided our crew needed a snack.
Whenever we finish our adventures the girls tell the story to their mother. It is always interesting hearing them tell it as if they actually lived it even though they know it is make believe. It is also interesting to hear how things she did with the kids in the day find their way into our adventures without my realizing. For instance, Makayla wanted to go to space. Turns out she had a long conversation earlier in the day with her mother about space. Also, turns out that pumpkin pancakes was a treat Christiane had at kindergarten this week. It was also interesting to me that they chose to have the pirates be witches. We watched