My four year old and I were snuggled up on his bed, reading one of his old board books to start off his bedtime routine. This book is bright and sweet, a little story about the magic of reading and the imaginative places you can through books. My son, however, is not especially imaginative. In the past year he has learned to pretend, which is a huge victory for the small child that used to scream whenever someone else made one his toys “talk.” Still, his pretending is very basic and realistic. The trains act out disasters and emotional dramas that are replications, or very similar to, plots from Thomas. The small version of one dinosaur calls the larger version of the same dinosaur Mommy. When prompted, he can often branch out, taking for example the hilarious conversations Daddy and Simon had over the banana phone, prompting Simon to search for and find a “missing banana.” He never found an actual banana, but pretended he did, and pretended to put it away. This is something we weren’t sure he could ever do, and he’s doing it, and it gives us an expectation that he’ll develop the rest of the typical social, playing, and learning skills, just a few years later than most of his peers.
In the meantime, though, he’s still pretty narrow in his self initiated pretending and understanding. Take that board book, with a “field of fresh daisies with faces that glow.” “Wait, wait Mommy,” Simon interrupts, “why do they have faces?” “I don’t know,” I reply, as we always do, desperately trying to prod him to think for himself, “why do you think they have faces?” “I think it’s because they can talk,” he replies, probably coming, again, from Thomas, where only the machines with faces talk. At this point I’m pretty excited, thinking we’re going to have a real conversation about a picture in a book. This is one of the most recommended tactics for reading with kids, to help them learn to read, but more importantly, to help them learn to think, and get meaning from what they read. It’s not something Simon really does, especially not with us. So, excited about him initiating with a question about a picture, and actually providing his own opinion, we continue. “What do you think they are talking about?”
And then, voice falling flat and monotone, he replies “they’re not actually talking about anything. They’re just in a book.” So we move turned the page. He did lose his imaginative momentum pretty quickly, but it’s still encouraging to see him branch out a little bit, as well as apply something he learned in one context (things with faces talk) to another (daisies have faces; they must be able to talk). He may never build the imaginary worlds and people that other kids do, or be mentally transported to a real field of talking flowers in his mind, but I love his literal little self, and find hope and relief that the learning and life skills that go along with creativity are developing, if a few years “late.”