Today I've been mending dramatic play costumes for preschoolers. This is something I do about twice a year, when our daughter's preschool is on hiatus and she is sorting and cleaning and all the other thousand things that go with creating a place for children to imagine and learn. The costumes get washed much oftener, of course, but about every six months decisions have to be made about what can stay, what can be refurbished, and what just has to be discarded. There are only so many times you can stitch the silver trim on a lace bodice for a princess dress, for instance. And there are only so many layers of torn netting you can elminate from a ballerina skirt before it just won't twirl.
The items that last the longest are the super hero capes. Once in awhile the velcro fasteners have to be refreshed, but mostly a cape can survive just about anything a preschooler can throw at it, including a mud ball. Maybe especially because of the mud ball!
When I'm working with these tiny pieces of clothing, I remember how powerful it was to pretend, to create a world as I wanted it to be. I remember making a magic transporter out of a cardboard box. It could take me all over the world, across oceans, and it could easily navigate any terrain. And my daughter tells me that preschoolers often find the best 'costume' in just a piece of fabric or a brightly colored scarf.
Children learn by pretending. That's a fact no one will deny, if they have any memory at all about their own childhood. It helps to sort out the world when you get to try on being a cook, a pirate, a princess, a traffic warden, or a fireman. And it helps you learn how to identify some pretty serious problems if you are, for a time, a superhero.
What super power do you want today? Will you save the environment, or the children in distress, or fight the monsters all around you? Or will you do as a couple of boys did on the playground the other day, and simply shout "I love you!" to one another?
These kids are going to need imaginations as big as they come to solve the problems they will face as they grow. And we can help them along by dreaming, imagining, our own solutions, even as people of an uncertain age, because every probable solution, every barely possible solution, needs to capture our collective imaginations. Besides, it's fun, right?