I had a conversation today with an educational professional who was concerned about an alarming lack of imagination she sensed in America’s youth (I not-so-secretly double as an educational technologist, remember?). A long-time accomplished radio professional, this person is working tirelessly to engage youth in the creation of stories, enriching their writing craft and developing a creative muse.

Made me wonder about the 14-month-old Bug I have at home, and my responsibility as a parent to help her cultivate imagination and creativity. And love of the story

Note to self: DON’T screw this up.

“In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf.”

Pat and the Bug were snuggled into the pillow rocker for a post-bath, pre-bedtime book. We always let Lila choose the book, and tonight she picked my favorite childhood story: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. It was one of the first things we bought when we learned we were expecting. Actually, it was one of many literary treasures we picked up on a mega shopping excursion to Barnes and Noble.

The story is a simple one: the metamorphic tale of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. The colored tissue paper illustrations are a kaleidoscope of rainbow patterns on the page – – it’s no wonder why this 1969 book continues to enchant children even 40 years later.

“One Sunday morning, the warm sun came up and – pop!- out of the egg came a tiny and very hungry caterpillar.”

Actually, it was a Sunday night when Lila made her grand entrance. But just like that little caterpillar – – she’s hungry. And into everything. Watching everyone. Her language skills are exploding right now, and she’s always been a voracious book lover. I have photos of a 4-month-old Bug, propped up in a chair, flipping pages. It seems that this kid has an innate curiosity, and natural love of stories. If I’m honest, story time is a favorite activity for all of us – – and we’ve made it part of our daily routine since we brought the Bug home.

“He started to look for some food…”

Lila flips through all books. It doesn’t matter if they’re ‘age appropriate,’ board books, picture books, or 400 page anthologies. I especially love when she nabs the book I’m currently reading from the night stand and puts it ‘away’ (away being wherever she thinks it belongs. Usually the bathroom cabinet). She’s constantly grabbing books off our shelves or from her bin and paging through them. That said, she also continually comes back to her favorites: How Long Can a String Be?, Do Princesses Wear Hiking Boots, and ANYTHING with flaps. So, she’s definitely developing her own ‘taste.’ And like all of us, those ‘tastes’ are subject to change. It’s the great thing about subjectivity.

“On Monday, he ate through one apple…”

Cultivating a young child’s imagination is like introducing your baby to different foods: each day, you try different tastes and textures. Too much at one time can be sensory overload or cause an adverse allergy reaction. Kinda like when the caterpillar ODs on sweets and salami mid-book. Different means of creative stimulation (audio, video, visual, taste, smell) – – they are all equally important. But, like YOUR mother always said, everything in moderation.

“He built a small house, called a cocoon, around himself. He stayed inside for more than two weeks. Then he nibbled a hole in the cocoon, pushed his way out and…”

It’s amazing to think of how everything your child experiences right now is shaping his or her world view. You, as the parent, have a significant role in shaping your child’s “cocoon.” (Eek?) Can you imagine what the world looks like from your toddler’s perspective? Not only is everything bigger, but it’s all an adventure, too. What role does story telling (or hearing) play into understanding and appreciating the world? If we nurture creativity at a young age, does that mean those creative silks are more intricately woven into our child’s worldview? It’s a mind-blowing thought…

“He was a beautiful butterfly.”

Imagine the potential.

Pat closed the book, kissed the Bug on the cheek, and laid her in the crib. She pulled her blanket up, tight near her chin. Later, when we checked on her, she was smiling. Sweet dreams.

NOTE: The picture is from about a year ago — but the scene described was from tonight. Literary quotes are from “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”