Posts Tagged With: imagination

TV shuts down your child’s imagination – or does it?

Before I had kids, I was divided on the positives of television for children. It seemed to me that it was like anything else – in moderation, it was fine and seemed like it might be quite a useful device from time to time. But then once I got pregnant, I read a lot about the evil effects of television and how it shortened our childrens’ attention spans and totally shut down their imaginations. I knew families who didn’t own a television, and their children were certainly imaginative, well-spoken and outgoing and could amuse themselves for long periods of time. So we decided on halfway ground. When small, our children didn’t watch a lot of “live” television (complete with ads), we recorded programs which we liked and thought might interest them, and removed the advertising, and they watched DVDs.

I was worried about their imaginations being stifled, but what I found was that the children took the shows and made the characters their own. We have four older children, and it’s amazing how many children’s books and shows also feature four children. Let’s think about it for a moment: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe – Peter, Susan, Lucy and Edmund (two boys and two girls conveniently);  Teletubbies – four of them; Tweenies – Bella, Milo, Fizz and Jake (again, two boys and two girls and freakishly like our four); Kim Possible – Kim, Ron, Rufus and Wade; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – all boys, but Leonardo is the leader, Rafael the hothead, Donatello the inventor and Michelangelo – the goofy one who is obsessed with food and my two girls and two boys were able to identify with one of these each and so the list goes on. They would take on the characters, and invent scenarios in the worlds of the characters. Lots of roleplaying, lots of (somewhat derivative) stories and scenarios, and lots of inventive imaginative play.  I’m not going to tell you which child related to which character, on the grounds that the therapy bills may be too high.

My younger children (two boys who are now six) take this one step further. We’ve applied similar TV watching rules, and in fact, the boys watch very little ‘live’ TV. They are, however, exposed to totally age-inappropriate viewing courtesy of their older siblings. One of them threw a complete wobbly the other day because his sister noticed he had crept into the room and was engrossed in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” so switched it off. He wanted to see the vamp get staked!!! They do watch a wide variety of shows, and have some special favourites – X-Men, Justice League, Avatar (the Last Airbender, not the blue aliens), Ninjago, Kim Possible, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and so on. There are only two of them, but they either take multiple roles, or they rope in school friends or their older siblings to be the other characters.

Here’s a conversation I overhead the other day.

Conal “Sam, watch out! Sensei Wu told you not to attack the Storm troopers!” (Lord of the Rings, Ninjago and Star Wars)

Zac “It’s OK, here come Batman and Zane and they’ll help him get Frodo out – they’ve got Harry’s wand!” (Justice League, Ninjago, Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings)

I’m not sure whether to be concerned about this total mashup of stories, or entertained. Mostly, I veer towards wildly entertained! Here’s a great picture demonstrating one of their stories. For those not up with the pop culture of six year old boys, the fighter is a Star Wars Lego kit. The figure is a Lego Ninjago character called Jay. You can’t quite see R2D2 in the cockpit of the fighter. Frodo fell off the front a few minutes before and Jay was catching him with the rope!

Star Ninjago of the Rings

Star Ninjago of the Rings

So where am I at with the TV watching and imagination? I still think that in moderation, and with some discretion, TV is not all bad. Obviously, we do to some extent direct what the children watch. That’s not to say that there are not times when we find a child vegged out in front of some mindless drivel, but then again, we’re guilty of that from time to time.

I have been pleasantly surprised by the imaginative games that seem to be inspired by the stories on the TV or in movies. Toy manufacturers like Lego do capitalise on this by producing figures, kits and books. But honestly? When you hear your kid discussing what makes a bad guy and what they should do if they see someone being mean to another person or animal, is that all bad? When you hear them taking on a character and changing their way of speaking and making up a complex story involving multiple mythologies, is that all bad?

Where do you weigh in on the TV versus imagination debate?

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Imagine this!

We’ve arrived on a pirate ship, moored out in the bay on a crimson sea, under a magenta sky…

OK, so perhaps I have tweaked the colour, but this is how it looked in our imaginations!

It’s a lovely weekend here. A long weekend, for Easter, and the weather forecast is completely wrong, so we have sunshine and clear skies (mostly). With very little planned, we’ve decided to take our small boys on an expedition to North Head, a former gun emplacement and observation post, which has, you guessed it, tunnels! We set out with our water bottle and our camera, and not much else.

We burn off some energy sliding down the hill on cardboard boxes. Guess who the biggest kid is?

We explore, led by Conal who races to the top of the hill – and disappears! The rest of the expedition follows, post-haste, to discover stunning views and darkest caverns. Luckily we have torches – Zac’s one is especially good as it has little flowers all around it which shine on the walls.  Once again, we’re reminded not to typecast our boys. Zac is normally the ‘leaper’. The phrase “heedless they” seems to have been coined for him. The assumption is that he is ‘braver’ than Conal, more adventurous, the leader. Conal is the first one down the hill on the cardboard, and throws himself into the darkest tunnels, curious to see what might be lurking in the shadows. Zac hangs back, holds my hand, doesn’t much like the dark.

We ramble up and down the hills, through the long grass, feeling like Livingstone and Stanley:

Stanley, Livingstone and a native porter!

On our way back to the car, we find a steep passageway leading to smugglers’ caves, overgrown with tree roots and overhanging mildewed rocks. We can’t resist the chance to explore further…

Then the boys discover the other end to one of their tunnels. We peered out through this small hole in the rock wall earlier and thought about climbing out. Now they think about climbing in!

Is it a dragon?

And finally, our intrepid explorers perch up on a cannon and check that our pirate ship hasn’t been blown out of the water.

The rain has held off, we’re all footsore and weary in a good way and armed with nothing more than our imaginations, have spent a wonderful afternoon. Pirates, smugglers, dragons, cannons and soldiers. What more could two 5-year old boys ask for in one day?

The ship's boy, comfortable on his cannon viewing platform.

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