Check out Anthony Esolen’s excellent post, Let’s Destroy That Imagination, in which he writes about the ways a simple visit to a junkyard with his son and father-in-law excites the imagination:
It used to be common for boys (I’m thinking of junkyards here, after all) to hang around grown men and pester them, or to overhear their conversations about bauxite, platinum, catalytic converters, drive trains, and cheap labor from Someplace Else. That was bound not only to provide them with a fund of general knowledge, but to stretch their imaginations—as was, likewise, their nearness to fascinating machines, like pile drivers or backhoes. People in general were proud of the cleverness of human industry: old-time postcards would include photos of coal-mines, fisheries, sawmills, lumber camps, and quarries. You understood that without such places, as “ugly” as some snobs might consider them, you don’t have that city with the bright lights and the fashionable people dining at Toots Shor’s.
When I read part of it to my dad, it reminded him of his younger brother who, fascinated by the construction crew working on the road, went along for the ride, and ended up 50 miles from home. He later became an engineer and worked on the Alaskan pipeline and on oil wells in Saudia Arabia, despite his struggling to finish high school. Had he not been allowed to watch the road crews at work and had they not indulged his interest, who knows where he’d have gone, what he’d have done.
The article ends with Esolen’s solicitation of ideas for a book he’s working on:
The subject is on my mind, because I’ll be writing a book soon about the clever ways we’ve invented to destroy the imagination of a child. All suggestions welcome …..
you really should read the comments too to see some pf the excellent suggestions he collects.
Brought to you via the Deputy Headmistress, who writes:
When I was a child in Canada, for some reason we had lots of international visitors stay with us. One family came from Scotland, I think. I don’t remember them. But Granny Tea tells me that they had two little girls always dressed in frilly dresses and black patent leather shoes. They stood at the window overlooking the backyard, noses pressed against the glass, while my brother and I played out in our backyard, which we considered a glorious wilderness even though it was not much larger than couple of king sized quilts laid end to end. It had a hill, after all, and a giant oak tree at the top of the hill.
I remember mud pies and earthworms and sliding down the hill, acorns and oak leaves, and plenty of dirt.
One day, Granny Tea says, the Scottish mother of the two impeccably dressed little girls asked my mother if she would forbid us the backyard while the family lived with us, as her daughters wanted to go outside and play, too, and they she didn’t want them to get their clothes dirty. My mother refused, but she did offer to loan the girls some of my clothes so they could get as gloriously dirty as my brother and I did. The other mother wasn’t interested.
The Deputy Headmistress is a great promoter of children’s playing in dirt (check out her entire post to read the rest of her delightful anecdotes and be sure to follow the links). I must confess that while I wholeheartedly agree with her in principle, I have a hard time practicing what I preach. When I was a child, I was the poor girl who hated to get sand in her sandals, who stood outside the sandbox my father built for me and daintily dabbed my hands in the sand. (Fortunately for my dad, my sister and brothers came along afterwards and poured the sand over their heads, ate it, got it into their clothes and diapers and everywhere else.) So Bella gets to play with her food sometimes. But at others I spoon the cereal into her mouth because I don’t feel like cleaning up the mess afterwards. I’m glad my dad took her puddle stomping this week because it might not have occurred to me to let her make the trek around the neighborhood, splashing in every puddle she encountered. But then that’s what grandparents are for, right? To provide the insight and the opportunities that we poor short-sighted parents, concerned with laundry and clean floors, might miss.