by Andy Peloquin
Imagination is such an important element of childhood. The more imaginative a child is, the more their brains grow and expand. Imagination and daydreaming fosters critical thinking skills, creative problem-solving abilities, and opportunities for cognitive growth. Simple things like painting, drawing, playing outside, and making messes gives children the opportunity to expand their imagination.
One article on Psychology Today says, “Fantasy-prone children (those who daydream and have imaginary friends) tend to have positive interpersonal, creative, and cognitive capacities. They tend to be more outgoing, better able to focus their attention, and more effective at seeing things from the perspective of others.”
The day they discover books is the first day they discover just how big the world is. Infants and toddlers learn about new countries and places they could never have imagined possible. They are taught about animals: fish in the sea, birds in the sky, mammals of such wondrous shapes, colors, and sizes.
As a child grows, they begin to find their own interest in books. They hear stories that teach them vital life lessons, lessons that will shape them into the men and women they will become. They learn that they are the hero in their own story, and that the only limits to possibilities exist in their minds.
Fantasy gives children a way to “put themselves in the mental shoes of others”. It goes beyond simple fiction—as one expert says, “this cognitive ability to adopt other perspectives is what makes elaborate pretend play so easy even before our brains are fully developed.”
As children grow into teenagers and adults, their imagination waxes and wanes depending on how much it is engaged. By the time they reach adulthood, many begin to seek out the escapism offered by fiction. With all of our daily troubles, nothing offers that escape like speculative fiction—fantasy, science fiction, dystopian, and more.
But that vivid imagination can follow us through the years, as we become adults. One psychologist drew an interesting comparison: “The joys of becoming caught up in entertainment are a big part of what many of us live for. In this sense, we are like those of firm religious faith who believe that a genuine paradise awaits them, except that we don’t even have to die to get there.”
As the narrative of our stories transport us to other realms—realms filled with monsters and aliens, wizards and space captains, heroes and villains—we step outside the limits imposed upon us by society and stretch the boundaries of “possible”. Even if we have to return to Planet Earth when we close the pages of our books, we know those worlds of impossibility are still there, waiting for us.
And, as we mature through our adult years and enter the later stages of life, that hunger for imagination follows us. We think back to our “glory days”, when we were young and strong and carefree. When we read about mighty heroes and warriors of renown, we get that sense of “I was like that once”. It brings back memories of the good times and the bad, and gives us hope that we had a live worth living.
From birth to death, cradle to the grave, imagination and the realms of fiction give us a way to step beyond our limits and experience something marvelous!