My oldest niece got a plastic veterinary play set for Christmas. It included all of the essentials any vet would need: a toy puppy for a check-up, a roll-chart, stethoscope, otoscope (which we called the “something-scope,” since I could not remember the name of the instrument at that moment), clip-on casts, X-ray cards with the toy puppy’s picture (we named him Sparky), Band-Aids, a clipboard, a thermometer, and a syringe for Sparky’s medicine. My niece was Sparky’s doctor, and I, the assistant. She loaded up the roll-chart, Sparky included, and moved from my sister’s attached kitchen island to the couch where we were sitting. She parked the chart and immediately popped Sparky’s first X-ray image into the X-ray machine.
“Here, Uncle Sheldon.” She handed me the syringe and looked at me with an ‘okay-what-now’ sparkle of imagination.
“Alright, now we need to give Sparky his shot since we are gonna be putting a cast on him. Look, you give it to him by his shoulder.” Her eyes locked on Sparky as I administered his shot. Instantly, taking on Sparky’s character, she yelped.
“Shh, shh, it’s okay, Sparky!” I said. We both scratched Sparky’s noggin, then my niece panted happily, indicating that Sparky was okay and that we could continue caring for him. My niece then swapped out the X-ray images of Sparky as I checked his heart and lungs with the stethoscope. We did not find any peas or carrots with the something-scope. Then while I finished checking Sparky’s temperature (under his front leg, of course), I noticed my niece “taking notes'' on her clipboard.
“Now we have to put this on Sparky because he got hurt,” she said, scooping up the casts from under the roll-cart.
“Okay, I’ll pet him and keep him calm while you get them on.”
Once the casts were properly clipped on, my niece whimpered quietly as Sparky. Then she flipped back to the compassionate doctor character, saying, “Shh, shh, it’s okay, Sparky!” The little plastic pup turned happy once more and even “jumped up” to lick my cheek.
“Do you wanna be a vet one day?” I asked her.
“I don’t know,” she chuckled, petting Sparky.
“I think you’d be a good one. Sparky likes you!” I said.
“But Sparky isn’t a real dog.” Her voice held wonder.
“That’s okay. If you do wanna be a vet one day, just know you can!” She lit up with the cheesiest smile, giggled joyfully, and scooted her cart away to the next adventure.
Imagination and creativity start at a young age. Some children start developing a sense for ideas as early as two or three years old. It could simply begin with stacking blocks, to then toppling them over in a burst of joy only to rebuild and repeat, eventually growing to more animated play, like giving character or function to any variety of toys they may have. Children have a natural ‘let’s-figure-it-out’ sense of wonder. When it comes to helping them maintain that sense, how can one continue to encourage their imagination and creativity beyond the early developmental years?
An excellent starting point is not just encouraging artistry and enhancement of creativity but helping to initiate it. These days, especially if you find one big enough, most Dollar Trees or Dollar Generals have at least the most basic starter supplies. If one finds it difficult to provide pens, pencils, paper, books, or art supplies, extend a resource as to where to get them. Local libraries are more than stacks of inked up fun and knowledge nowadays. A variety of resources exist in modern libraries, including equipment rentals (cameras and video recorders), access to local history/artwork, and even passes to parks and museums. This can lead to opportunities toward incorporating the youth’s interest further in their perspective medium. Not only into their learning life but also in their everyday life. If you are a parent and are not particularly sure if you understand the depth of your child’s artistry, at least take strides toward respecting and appreciating the drive and ambition they possess to pursue a craft. If you are the friend of someone interested in enhancing their imagination or artistic vision, take moments to do the same. Part of being human is having a community of contemporaries and constructive appreciators to motivate you to produce your best work; if someone else can encourage you to nurture your imagination, why could you not do the same for yourself?
That’s the most important aspect of encouragement. Realizing that, while having others in your corner can and should help, it all boils down to your self-propulsion. This is where immersing yourself further into active use of your imagination becomes critical. If you write crappy words… write more crappy words while taking time to read the crappy words that others had to start with. Though these quotations from the great horror/fantasy author Stephen King are about writing, I believe they can be applied to any artistic medium: “The scariest moment is always before you start,” and, “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”
The next generation of artists wants to face the real, raw nature of living. They are not the beat-around-the-bush type. They want to take ideas and soar with them, making their art the heart of their living experience. Young local Midwest emo/math rock musicians, Scene Zero (based out of Winamac), agree that encouraging the youth comes with not treating them like they do not see and cannot understand what is going on in the world around them. Censoring their perception constrains their creative flow and does not allow them to process this existence through a reflective lens. One of the most storied bands in the history of progressive artistic noise, Green Day, started with two fourteen-year-old friends. Their need to dive into the raw, energetic sound swirling inside of