We left our discussion of fantasy and imagination with mention of the cast of seasonal characters that bring ecological principals to life for the young child. Not only are these characters valuable for creating visual images for complex concepts, they can provide the starting point for the creation of complex imaginary worlds that encourage children to dive deep into the imaginary realm, an all-too-oft forgotten gift of childhood in today’s academically-centered world.
Sobel draws from the work of David Cohen in The Development of Imagination: The Private Worlds of Childhood as he relays the study of elaborate imaginary worlds, termed paracosms by Cohen (think C.S. Lewis). Paracosms emerge around age seven and continue through age fourteen. Interestingly, this is the age range that is recognized within alternative views of childhood development as a time when story and imagery are the most profound and effective means for a child to access ideas and explore their world.
What is important here is the idea that fostering the development of a rich and meaningful relationship between a child and the natural world requires that we honor the developmental place the child inhabits. With the first play theme, adventure, we saw how we can reach children through their bodies, which is desirable for children under the age of seven. Here we see how to honor the emerging imagination, ideal for the child reaching seven and beyond. The four year old crawls like a bear, while an eight year old creates a bear’s den to hide from hunters which lurk behind trees. We seem to have cast aside the rich knowledge we have of childhood development for our unyielding pursuit to improve education, teaching our children as if they are mini adults, instead of celebrating them as complete and whole just as they are, in their bodies or motivated by imagery and play.
At home and in schools, we can tap into our children’s imagination by creating a cast of characters to revisit over and over again. We have many such characters in our home, some, like Princess Spring and Old Man Winter, have come alive through Enki nature stories. Others, come to life through our toys, and yet others are crafted purely for the sake of storytelling. These characters can bring nature to life through the embodiment of ecological phenomena in story, or they can bring nature to life through the interaction with nature in the very genuine realm of nature play, where rocks become castles and caves become dungeons. There is room for such free exploration of nature; there has to be, on the weekends and in school.