I am very happy to be participating in the Imagine Childhood blog tour. For my stop on the tour I asked Sarah a few questions about her philosophy and the book:
Imagine Childhood: Exploring the World through Nature, Imagination, and Play – 25 Projects that spark curiosity and adventure by Sarah Olmsted. Roost Books; (October 16, 2012).
1. You discuss in your book the magic of childhood — Can you explain a little about how you ‘build’ your world of wonder? How you create that magical world for children and how the children you know respond to that world?
I don’t think it is so much about “building” a world of wonder as it is about opening yourself up to the one that we are already living in. Experiencing magic can be as simple as a subtle shift in your perspective or actions. Taking the time to notice the birds in your neighborhood, the intricate patterns of a spider web, the clouds in the sky, can instantly create a sense of wonder wherever you are. The same principles are true in regards to creating a magical world for children. The space that children naturally inhabit is an enchanted one. Every object or interaction has as much potential to be magical as mundane. All that is needed to put the focus on the fantastic is a willingness to jump into that world with them, to chase fairies through the park, to look for magic stones at the beach… to see the world through a child’s eyes and join them on their journey.
Perhaps one of the most heartening aspects of writing this book was seeing just how close children (and adults for that matter) keep the world of magic and how quickly and wholeheartedly they will engage with it. I have worked with, or designed for, children for the better part of my life, but still, the power of a few sticks, some string, and a healthy dose of imagination never ceases to amaze me. When given the space to explore the universe of their imagination, children engage the world with openness and see it for all of its limitless potential.
2. The projects in your book are built upon layers of experimentation and innovation, each project is a guide with lots of tangents of possibility, can you tell us about this trial and error approach to your projects for children?
“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn”
~ Benjamin Franklin
The trial and error framework for many of the projects in this book is based on a sentiment very similar to the quote above. That in order to really learn something, you have to engage with it, and nothing is more engaging than experimentation. The fluid structure of experimentation allows children to experience moments of discovery in whatever they happen to be working with and it encourages them to follow those discoveries wherever they may lead. This sort of open ended approach can be fun because it allows children to come back to projects or activities again and again without ever repeating the same experience. Since the focus is on the process rather than the end result, innovations and tangential explorations can be just as important and fruitful as the original activity.
3. You use a lot of natural materials in your projects — and if you are not directly using them then you are inspired by them. Can you tell us how this connection with nature is important for your inspiration and for children’s play?
When you really look into it, most of the materials that we use on a daily basis have a root in the natural world. Whether it is a pigment made from plants or minerals, or a steel cable inspired by the strength found in spider silk, the origin of nearly everything we touch can be connected with nature in some way. I think I am attracted to natural materials for exactly this reason. They are the building blocks of the world we live in, from mountains to skyscrapers, color wheels to computers.
My emphasis on using simple natural materials with children follows a similar logic. That by starting out with the fundamentals children can learn how to build the world of their dreams, one stick raft, one tree fort at a time. Also, procuring natural material means engaging with nature, which is never a bad thing in my opinion.
Thank you Kathreen for sharing your wonderful space with me today!