In the first week of school our kindergarten teachers put a stuffed animal named “Chester” in my office. They tell the kids that Chester is somewhere in the building and they spend some time searching for him. Eventually, they make their way to my office, where they find him comfortably taking a break in a safe place.
The kids stop by the media center, they see the playgrounds, and they pass bathrooms and drinking fountains. They get a comprehensive tour of the school, chalk full of important information as they search for Chester.
When they get to my office I let them in on why Chester ended up with me. I tell them that he was feeling a bit sad and that he knew my office was a place he could come to talk, to rest, and to feel safe. I use my imagination. We all have fun pretending.
The teachers and I share some thinking about how kids can also come to me for support, just like Chester did, whenever they need to. We help them understand that our school is filled with trusted adults and we give them suggestions about how they can get the help they need by letting their teacher know how they feel and what they need.
Most of the kids get pretty excited about Chester. They asked questions, they point and smile, they tell me all about the stuffed animals they have at home and the raccoon they saw in the driveway the night before. Many of them call out, “I found Chester!”
This year, one little guy stood very still and silent. His eyes were wide. He looked back and forth from Chester’s face to my face. He studies both of us intently.
Just before following the line of his peers out the door he looked up and asked in earnest, “Is Chester real…did he really come to your office?”
What a great reminder. Kids, especially the youngest among them, tend to believe what we tell them. At least they tend to consider it.
I told him that Chester was “real” in my imagination. I said I was pretending Chester was “real” so the kids would understand that they can come to my office for help. I shared that our imaginations are very useful and imporatnt, and that pretending can be a great way to learn, especially because all of us have the ability to do it. I smiled and patted Chester on the head. He smiled, and I thought I saw a attempt at a wink.
The Berg kids imagine things all the time. They give me instructions – “You’re the person at the restaurant and I’m the chef,” or “I’m the teacher and your the kid,” or “You’re the brother and I’m the dad.” Then we play, learn, grow, and bond. They use their imaginations to unfold scenarios based on their interests, their curiosities, and their developmental needs. It’s pretty cool, it’s fun, and it’s engaging.
When we think about learning we often visualize something more formal than imagination and pretend play. Undoubtedly, there’s a place for formalities in education. That said, imagination is built-in and easily accessible.
As parents and educators we have unlimited opportunities to rely on play and imagination, our kids’ and ours, for pathways to growth and well-being with equally unlimited potential.
Live. Love. Listen. Learn. Lead. In it together for the kids.