We have a two-part bedtime ritual around our house. We read the boys a story from one of the many picture books that they have in their library, and we tell them a “once-upon-a-time“. The former is likely pretty typical, as bedtime rituals go, but the “once-upon-a-time” idea began one night quite by accident. I was having a particularly tough time getting Luke to sleep and, after exhausting all of my teaching brilliance (and after exhausting myself), I spontaneously began, “Once upon a time, there was a little boy named Luke…”
I can’t remember how the story continued, but I did remember that it settled Luke enough that he fell asleep shortly after. That was three years ago and to this day, both Luke and Liam ask for a “once-upon-a-time” before they go to sleep. They will often forgo the book in favour of the oral story.
The difference between the two elements of the bedtime ritual is that the book-based story is almost always accompanied by pictures. The “once-upon-a-time”, however, is based on imagination. It originates in my own imagination (usually in anon-the-spotmanner) and connects with the imagination of the boys using only oral language.
Earlier this month, Malkin Dare from the Society for Quality Education cited an article suggesting that we might be doing our kids a disservice by exposing them to too many picture books. The suggestion was that the combination of words and related pictures might be distracting early readers from the process of actually learning to read.
Kieran Egan is equally concerned about a reliance on picture books, but for different reasons than the folks at SQE. In The Future of Education, Egan comments:
We, similarly, give children storybooks full of illustrations. nearly all young children will be engaged more by an oral story toldy by an adult—even when told hesitantly, stublingly—than by one read with many visually attractive illustrations. At least, this is the case when children have actually heard a story told. Many children today never expierence this. Either they watch movies, or TV, or, at best, have a story read to them while they look at the pictures. Given the importance of generating images from words in the development of the imagination, many children—often those from affluent backgrounds—suffer impoverishment of this tool from the beginning.
This makes sense to me; in fact, it might explain my reluctance to go see films that have been adapted from my favourite books. I have already created very strong images of the characters, the setting and the action of the story. And you know what? With very few exceptions, the screenplay has never quite captured the world that I have created on my own.
According to Egan, it’s one of the powerful cognitive tools through which we come to know and think about the world in a very powerful, abstract way.
Much more to say about this, but I’ll leave you with a couple of questions.
Is it possible that our school-based love affair with early, middle and later literacy have pushed to the side the power and the joy of imaginative development. How do you nurture imagination in your own children or in your students? What do your children still have in their lives that “tickles their imagination”?