Dr. Gereboff's Head Notes
Last week, I had the privilege of supervising the morning (7:30 a.m.) gesher program. I didn’t see it as a privilege at 6:00 a.m. when I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to read my emails before I got to school. But by 7:40, I discovered what a gift it was. In the hazy, grey morning I was able to observe closely a small group of young children at play. There were so many interesting lessons to observe up close in these interactions.
The handful of children who first arrived ran around the play structure. Some followed, others led. Then they reversed the pattern. At times they seemed to crawl around pretending to be animals. At other times they climbed the structure and hid from one another. They didn’t exchange many words, their cues to change a pattern was conveyed through body language – a nod, wide-eyed grins, a hand gesture. They were living in an imaginary world, and somehow they were able to weave together a narrative that held the group together.
The experience drew me back in time to a memory of my oldest son, Avi, at age seven. He was playing in our back yard by himself. He was in full baseball regalia – a Red Sox helmet, gloves, Red Sox t-shirt. He was swinging his bat, running bases all by himself. At one point I looked out the window and noticed that he was sitting on the ground – bat on his side, head resting in his hands and looking a bit dejected. I walked over to him and asked him if everything was okay. His response, “The other team is up at bat.”
Imaginative play is a critical feature of a child’s cognitive and social development. Among the documented benefits are increases in language usage, perspective-taking, empathy, reduced aggression, problem solving and creativity. Creativity is at the core of imaginative play as children develop scenes and characters “de novo”.
One of the side benefits of imaginative play is the development of personal resources to cope with adversity. When confronted with failure, a child who has a developed imagination can entertain possibilities. S/he can understand that a particular failure is not a dead end. It is important when a child is growing beyond the early years of imaginative play, that adults encourage the older child to continue to imagine solutions and possibilities to all sorts of scenarios so that s/he can develop this coping mechanism. You can read more about the many advantages to encouraging imagination in this interview with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman, professor of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania and the scientific director of its Imagination Institute.
At Wornick, we give children opportunity to imagine, to play and to dream. We draw from a tradition that encourages imagination. On Sukkot, children imagine heroes from the past as their guests in the sukkah, on Purim everyone plays dress up and, in older classrooms, we encourage students to engage with, and to create, midrash which are imagined textual interpretations. Ultimately our utopian image of “tikun olam” (a repaired world) is an exercise in imagining a perfect world. Shabbat is also understood in Jewish tradition as representative of a peaceful world.
Shabbat shalom – Imagine, play and have a peaceful Shabbat,
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