This “These Are Your Kids on Books” poster has gone viral in the past couple of days, and it reminded me of some conversations I’ve had about kids, imagination, and reading.

When my daughter was in third grade, she was on the playground at her school. It was a private school, with mostly well-to-do families. She picked up an empty acorn shell, filled it with sand, and showed it to a little girl. “Look,” she said. “Ice cream cone!” Imaginative play; pretty basic, right?

“That’s just an acorn,” said the little girl, and walked off.

My daughter looked crushed. She dropped the acorn.

I spoke about the incident with her teacher later. This wasn’t the first time other kids had regarded my daughter as an outsider at her display of imagination. The teacher said that she thought that was typical today; many kids lack imagination because they:

  • Spend too much time in structured activities
  • Have too much screen time

How does this relate to reading?

To be a good reader, you need to have imagination. Your imagination conjures words into pictures and scenes in your head.

As you read more, your imagination develops. One feeds the other.

Later, when my kids went to a different school where there were lower income families, many of whom were bussed in, I discussed this with one of the teachers there. She saw this in her classroom:

Too little playtime=Underdeveloped imagination=Trouble with reading, or Disinterest in Reading.

What’s cut out of school these days? Things like recess and creative subjects, like art, are always the first to go.

I thought it was interesting that the lack of imaginative play is found on both ends of the socio-economic spectrum.  I guess imagination is a casualty of our modern society.

The New York Times reported that the offspring of many Silicon Valley-heavyweights, like eBay, Google, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo, and Apple all send their kids to a computer-free Waldorf school.

Yep. These super-smart, super-successful, high-tech folks recognize the value of imagination fueling creativity, not external devices.

In other news, a bunch of schools here have gotten iPads in their classrooms. And in the Sweetwater High School district, just south of San Diego proper, literature is no longer taught because the students weren’t doing well on the SDSU entrance writing tests (they started doing this in 2010 and are continuing because these basic test scores went up). I’m not going to get into how sick that makes me, but it’s a symptom of something larger, don’t you think?

Maybe to become a hard-working, innovative world power again, the US needs to cut its children off of technology a bit more. Just a thought.