“The young man sitting on a tractor for the first time will be both the child he is and the man he is going to be.”This chapter will be the hardest, the least natural, for us to implement. Esolen talks about the imagination-growing effects of spending time around big machines, really seeing how things work. He writes of learning from people who really know their craft and love it. He mentions hunting, learning how to wait in the cold and mud for just the right moment to shoot the prey. And there’s more: shovels and hammers, engines and batteries, ropes and sailboats, trespassing, bonfires, battle plans, blueprints...
“We forget as we sit comfortably in front of our computer screens how fascinating a large machine can be.”
You can’t just take kids to museums which present science and nature as so much political propaganda and you can’t just sit them down in a class or in front of a demonstration. They need time and space and equipment to experiment whether it’s in the backyard (with rope, wood and a tree), in the garage (with wires, batteries and screws), in the garden (with shovel, seeds and dirt), in the sewing room (with fabric, needles and thread) or in the kitchen (with pans, ingredients and the stove). If kids can learn about The Way Things Work from people who truly understand and delight in their craft, their imaginations will grow all the more.
As parents we are tempted to look for the worth in our children’s undertakings. If they might someday make money off of one or two of their hobbies or, even better, if it might be the beginning of a career path, then we are willing to let them invest time in it and maybe we’ll even pay for some lessons or equipment. Otherwise all we see is the mess. So much of what looks like pointless tinkering to us encourages inquisitiveness, observation, and (of course) imagination.
If we do allow our children to dabble in hobbies, we like to keep them small-scale, you know, something easy to store and easy to clean up. But children can learn and experience much more if it is on a larger scale, especially if it has a practical purpose. They will become engineers when they try to rig a rope swing or farmers when you give them a corner of the yard to clear and tend.
Many of these pursuits are not safe. Fingers will be pounded and knees scraped, they will learn the feel of an electric shock, and they just might earn a scar or two from bumping a pan hot from the oven. But the mind will thrive, the body will toughen, and each experience will teach them something not to do next time. Don’t let safety concerns remove the wonder of discovery and the joy of creating. Let them learn how to be careful and responsible. Doug Wilson is not the only one to say that the body is for using up: we’ll get a new one in the next life.
Besides physical machines and equipment, our children’s imaginations can also grow by pouring over blueprints, plans, maps, etc: anything that puts an abstract concept down on paper. Just as Wallace went first to the drawing board before building the rocket that would take him and Gromit on their cheese holiday, so most invention begins with paper and pencil. When we supply our kids with examples they can imitate, they should be encouraged to go off and invent for themselves. Whether it’s a diagram of a new machine, the design of a treehouse, a battle plan to attack Russia, or the plot to the next Great American novel, they’ll be able to come up with anything.
By getting their hands on as much that is real and tangible as possible, our children’s imaginations will flourish. As they experience a physical world, their mental capacity blossom and they will be better fit to take dominion.