My five year old is sitting on the couch, staring into space, making a dripping noise with his mouth and kicking his foot back and forth. He has been doing this for nearly twenty minutes. I have no desire to find him something to do, call over a friend for him, nor turn on a movie. Despite the myriad educational toys, puzzles, science kits, art supplies and books laying about, I will not be getting up from my chair to direct his attention towards any of it. He is doing exactly what a kid should be doing during the dog days of summer — daydreaming.
It looks like he is doing nothing and in today’s culture of go!go!go! and over-scheduling kids, his apparent laziness might cause some to panic. He is not currently building any bankable skills nor learning how to excel at a sport. He is not reading. He is not playing a game.
He is just sitting there, doing nothing.
But I’m okay with it. We did our camps and our swim lessons and now is time for him to zone out to the sound of wind chimes and street construction and the city bus zooming by. If he were listening closely he could hear his sister’s singing from the bedroom and the next door neighbors talking in their yard.
I think our kids need more time unscheduled, unplugged, unlimited. Daydreaming allows the imagination to stretch its legs, and that gives our kids the ability to invent, problem solve, create, and inspire.
Maybe he is watching the leaves rustle in the hot breeze or counting the chirps from the cardinal perched on the fence. Maybe he is in another world entirely, fighting sea monsters or traveling through space or building cities in his mind. Perhaps he is playing a vignette in his imagination, giving a silent voice over to the script because the only words he knows how to write are “Ben”, “I love my Mom”, and “Star Wars”.
Maybe he is building a machine, one that runs on the leftover sprinkles that fall to the plate after decorating cookies. Maybe he has discovered a rare bird, one whose song soothes the sick. Maybe he is a traveler, teaching magic tricks to the children of a village in exchange for dinner and a cot. Maybe he is a dog catcher, a fishermen, a stay-at-home dad. Maybe he is training alligators, or building tree houses so large a family could live in them. Maybe he is discovering how fairies make glitter.
Maybe he is doing something the imagination of his thirty five year old mom cannot conjure, a something that only a five year old could see and believe in.
Empires of imagination are built on long stretches of uninterrupted time. So sit he will on this dog day afternoon, because in the apparent nothingness is everything.