"No obstacles are insurmountable when God commands and we obey"
- - Heber J. Grant
September 17, 2012
Imagine That
by Melissa Howell

My children are crazy imaginative.

On a recent family outing, they spent a majority of the time up in a tree, being squirrels — playing squirrel family, in fact. Squirrel family has been a recurring game between them for years, but living on the plains as we do, my kids experience a shortage of good tree climbing opportunities.

They gathered acorns, they climbed, they — I don’t even know all that went on up in that tree, other than they were completely occupied with the game and had fun. A lot of fun.

On the drive home, I heard my daughter, age 6, quietly acting out some scenario she had devised, and when we got home, I asked her to show me what she was doing.

Out of the acorns and leaves she had gathered, she had created a miniscule world, wherein one acorn with a particularly long and winding stem was serving as a mouse. I wouldn’t have noticed it on my own, but when she pointed out, it clicked.

“Why yes, Isabel! That looks exactly like a mouse!” I replied.

A leaf served as the mouse’s bed, a little acorn was the mouse’s stuffed animal, and two teeny perfectly shaped acorn tops were the mouse’s cup and bowl.

This little scenario occupied her for no less than three hours in total that evening. And I was reminded of one of the key ingredients of childhood, something that shapes those formative years and has an impact on how they live, and what they remember from childhood: imaginations.

I remember the imagination I once possessed. I am famous — well, at least among my cousins — for the ghost stories I used to invent and tell as I went along, huddled in the eerie darkness of grandma’s 3rd-story attic. I have often pleaded for those ghost-telling abilities to come back to me (because such things as ghosts and vampires do well these days, no?).

I remember the hours I could spend playing make-believe as a child, where as now I find it almost difficult sometimes to engage in my children’s pretend scenarios for even a few moments. But is that imagination really gone? Where does it go? Perhaps we outgrow it. Perhaps it becomes buried within us as the realities and challenges and complexities of life take over. Or, perhaps it transforms and grows with us; that need to create stories and games and scenarios morphs into the need create: projects, careers, even new life!

When we become parents, we receive the distinct and amazing privilege to experience life over again, to view things in a new, often rediscovered way, to look once again through a child’s eyes. We can certainly do our part to make the view a beautiful one.

While some children are perhaps more vivid in their imaginations than others, we should create an environment that allows time and opportunity for active play, creativity, thinking and expression. Perhaps a little less time in front of the television and computer screens, and a little more time outside is what is needed. A little less time in scheduled activities, a little more time to be children. It never ceases to amaze me how I can easily provide the framework for an activity, and then let their imaginations do the rest.

For example, on a quiet, hot summer afternoon, cries of, “I’m bored,” turned into an afternoon of much fun when I threw a couple of play tents and blankets into the backyard.

In teaching our children and striving to impress things upon their minds, a most effective tool is to involve their imaginations. The Primary lessons are filled with simple yet powerful methods of helping children to learn through doing, singing, acting, seeing, thinking, smelling or tasting.

One of our most simple yet lasting family home evening lessons happened a few years ago. My husband had selected the Thomas S. Monson talk titled “Three Bridges” from the October 2003 General Conference, in which President Monson talked about a book he had read years ago titled The Way to the Western Sea by David S. Lavender. It contained, said President Monson, a fascinating account of the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark as they led their expedition across the North American continent to discover an overland route to the Pacific Ocean.

Then he said:

“Their trek was a nightmare of backbreaking toil, deep gorges which had to be crossed, and extensive travel by foot, carrying with them their supply-laden boats to find the next stream on which to make their way.

“As I read of their experiences, I mused, ‘If only there were modern bridges to span the gorges or the raging waters.’ … In reality, we are all travelers — even explorers of mortality. We do not have the benefit of previous personal experience. We must pass over steep cliffs and turbulent waters in our own journey here on earth.”

President Monson then relayed that the Savior provided three bridges we need to cross: the bridge of obedience, the bridge of service, and the bridge of prayer.

To demonstrate this point, my husband filled three bowls with water and built a bridge across each one out of Legos, using a small Lego man to then cross each bridge, and we named them each one as he went: Obedience. Service. Prayer.

This simple lesson required very little planning, yet has had years of impact. Ask our children at any given moment what three bridges the Savior has taught us to cross, and they will quickly answer “Obey! Service! Prayer!”

Although we as adults may not have the vivid imaginations that we did as children, we need to help cultivate the imaginations of our children — and in so doing, we might rediscover the joy of using our own imaginations. I like to believe they are still a part of us.

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About Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell was born and raised in the woods of northern Minnesota. She has a degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota.

As a single 20-something, she moved to Colorado seeking an adventure. She found one, first in landing her dream job and then in landing her dream husband; four children followed.

Upon becoming a mother, she left her career in healthcare communications to be a stay-at-home mom, and now every day is an adventure with her husband Brian and children Connor (9), Isabel (6), Lucas (5) and Mason (2).

In addition, she is a freelance writer and communications consultant for a variety of organizations.

Melissa serves as Assistant director of media relations for stake public affairs and Webelos den leader

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