My oldest son is hard at work this rainy summer afternoon. He is writing out a complete index of all the entries in his Animal Encyclopedia by hand. His younger brother is seated beside him, concentrating intently on his own project-- he is drafting and illustrating little "handbooks" with titles like How to Use a Stapler, The History of Wood, and Human Body Parts and How they Work. I'm not so sure these reference materials will prove all that handy when they've finished, but it seems to me a better use of time than watching cartoons or playing video games. Besides the basic handwriting skills, they are practicing concentration, proper punctuation, categorizing and alphabetizing, and they're learning how to give clear instructions-- or attempting to anyway.
We've never suggested that they do such things and we've certainly never modeled such odd hobbies; these are just the sorts of things children do when their imaginations are healthy, when their lives are not scheduled for them to the very minute and when they don't have unlimited access to media entertainment. These last two are most likely a cause of the first and are very simple to provide--just don't over plan your children's lives and don't let them watch endless television. It's very simple. My husband and I jokingly call this principle, "Formation by Deprivation," but of course it isn't really "deprivation" at all.
A recent trip to the ER constrained us to a whole day of unguarded television watching and it convinced me of two things. First, almost everything on Nickelodeon is stoo-oo-pid. Second, if given the opportunity, my children would do nothing but watch Nickelodeon all day... all summer long... drifting in and out of sleep-- the blue light of the television screen shining gently on their anemic faces. I am not ashamed to deprive them of that experience."Formation by Deprivation" is just a fun expression.
Maria Montessori has a more serious take on it when she speaks about the simplicity of the learning environment and how a certain poverty of the senses disposes us to contemplation.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.
It struck me, many years ago, how this poverty of the senses allows the imagination to thrive. The mind's eye is like the body's eye also in that it can be "burnt out" so to speak if it stares directly into a light that is too intense. Oftentimes movies, television and video games designed for older children overwhelm the younger child's imagination and can impress too much upon it so that the child is unable to imagine beyond the characters and actions of the television he's seen--much like the green sun spots that blind us when we come indoors after being overexposed to outdoor light.
Left to their own devices and encouraged by the gentle light of carefully selected, age appropriate books and media, children's imaginations thrive. The child who isn't distracted by the excessively appealing television junk programming that is marketed to him is more likely to take interest in the less animated, less action-packed world around him. He will contemplate and process the real world more readily and it is in those experiences that he will discover immortal truths. It is while considering the beauty of the natural world that he will see God's goodness, and in pondering the gifts of His creation that he will better understand his own place within it. (Do not miss that link)
In these ways, the child who is "poor in spirit" will come to understand more and more the ways of God... and that is to begin to inherit His Kingdom.