Inanimate Objects And Imaginary Friends
Are imaginary friend’s really just that - friend’s for the imagination? My son had two imaginary friends, ‘Monkey’ and ‘Dinosaur’. For a few years before he started school, they played with him and joined him where ever he went. Every morning he would set up two mini-bowls and spoons for their breakfast alongside him. They could never be excluded. My son enjoyed true companionship with them, he often spoke of all the creative things they would do together. His days involved a lot of imaginary make-believe play and the three of them created wonderful ideas and stories together.
Tools For The Imagination
By having imaginary friends it was like observing his imagination leaping out to take action with his inner creative energy, forming external interactions from his internal thoughts and ideas. Pretend playmates are known to be good for children’s creative development and it was clearly obvious his ‘friends’ were like the tools for his imagination to be set free.
He had created these relationships completely out of his imagination. With his imaginary friends he would practice taking both sides of conversation, different roles, think abstractly and develop new ideas. These connections help children explore and understand their world around them, a companion at their playing level, that they can relate to and communicate openly with.
The Red Balloon
Today, my three-year-old son and I watched ‘The Red Balloon’ online - the beautiful 1956 French Oscar winning children’s film. After watching intently without a word, he then begged for his own balloon - clearly inquisitive about the connection he could form with one. Luckily we had one, a red one too, which he played and interacted with just as the little boy in the movie did, as if it were a special friend… as if it really did have a magical connection with him too. It wasn’t just a balloon, it was his play companion. What he had observed from the movie - the playful connection he desired - was replicated into his own experience by his highly enthusiastic imagination.
Inanimate Play Friends
It’s somehow similar then, when young children attach themselves to a stuffed toy or ‘Linus blanket’ as comfort/transition object during development. My son claimed his before he was one-year-old and two years later he still talks about it as a member of our family. It’s a ‘he’ and he can ‘hurt’ and ‘feel’ just like my son does. He has many imaginative stories about his Snuffy. Their depth of connection goes much further than we would ever imagine, it’s almost a part of him. He even speaks to this inanimate object giving it life. I once glued some googly-eyes on it, intending to make it more fun and ‘real‘ like a teddy but that was a big mistake. Clearly distraught he removed them and showed my how he can already ‘see’ by holding his fine-muslin-cloth-snuffy up to the light - it was transparent. He could see through it, so Snuffy indeed could see too.
The creation of a transition/comfort object at just a few months old could be the first actual creative act of a child as he uses his imagination to create reality out of nothing. His Snuffy becomes a tool for practicing interaction with the external world. It has a warmth and vitality that indicates it has a reality of its own. It clearly exists independently neither a part of him or the external world.
Toys That Underestimate The Imagination
Many toys have happy-little-human-faces on them like train sets, and some toys even a voice, begging for kids to swoop them up by trying to be ‘real’ little buddies while totally underestimating their imagination. When a simple red balloon, a linus blanket, or an imaginary friend can create such a deep connection we realise that creative play is not just limited to kids and manufactured toy experiences, but rather a child exploring and developing various playful relationships connecting with the world around him - physical objects, imaginary or make-believe worlds. A child brings anything to life by adding their imagination to it.
Friendship and Free Time For The Imagination
My six-year-old son still spends a lot of his time in elaborate fantasy worlds, imagining his secret spy team, their fort and their missions. They solve problems by acting them out and inventing characters, magical locations and things. He has since moved on from his imaginary friends to real-life friends but still throws himself into make-believe play with them - friends whom he can play and collaborate with, develop ideas and together continue to spark that incredible imagination they start life with.
A six-year-old still craves time for imaginative play, time to escape adults expectations and enter fantasty worlds where anything is possible. For my son his play is often dramatic and exciting, contemplative and quiet with thinking and planning, challenging and physical - a lot of skills are developed along the way. It reminds us how important any friendship is to a child, one that is not just about being in the same sports team, or in class, or other scheduled activities, but free time to play together to get in touch with their creative imaginations and be kids the way kids want to be.
Children live in a world where magic is real, they believe in fairy tales, monsters, and super powered heroes, they lack the abstract thinking abilities of how the world around them works. Sometimes letting them believe in things keeps the imagination alive, rather than cutting it off with a finite explanation. If creativity comes from believing in the impossible then imaginary worlds are a fabulous open-minded place to start.