Seeing with your imagination:

help your children look at things in a new way

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Seeing with your imagination

It was an annual bittersweet day. We had stripped down the Christmas tree and dragged it onto our front lawn to be picked up by the township truck. Looking at the forlorn tree lying on the snow at the base of a large spruce, my young son Will said, “It looks like our tree is sleeping and its father is watching it sleep.”

Our kids often surprise us with the inventive way they see things. It’s a skill that’s quite useful to them when they play – a block becomes a castle, a paper towel tube transforms into a telescope, then a trumpet, then a rocket ship.

Other pages in this article

• main article
historical examples

Cloud shapes
Seeing double

DaVinci's Doodles
What can it be?

There are two ways of seeing. We can see with our eyes, recognizing things for what they are. But we can also view things with our imaginations, seeing them for what they could be. Creative people understand this. Albert Szant-Gyrgyi has put it well: “Creativity is seeing what everybody else has seen, and thinking what nobody else has thought.” Painter Henri Matisse described how he uses these two levels of seeing. “When I eat a tomato, I look at it as anyone else would,” he said. “But when I paint a tomato, then I see it differently.” History holds many examples of people who were able to see two ways.

The good news is – your children have this ability. It’s a gift from their Creator. The bad news is that like any skill, it can get rusty with neglect. Studies have shown that the average adult is far less intuitively creative than the average child. But we don’t need studies to tell us that. The simple fact that our children surprise us with the way they see things should be evidence enough.

So how can you encourage this creative way of seeing in your kids?

Try my warm-ups. These are simple exercises you can do with your child. Maybe knock a little rust off. Then give my activities a whirl. They’re great fun – tested in my own home, as well as by hundreds of the students I’ve visited in schools.

But the simplest thing to do is slow down. Imagining thrives on those in-between moments. Try not to take all of life at highway speed. Meander more. Imagine that the puddle on the driveway is a tiny lake, just begging for a leaf boat. Notice the bumpy face in the gnarled tree. Find animal shapes in clouds. And when your child makes one of those wonderful mind-shifting observations, take the time to see it her way.

You may never see it the ordinary way again!

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2003 Bruce Van Patter