Chasing dragons and woodland creatures was a common thing in my house. It never occurred to me to not let my girls have swords (sticks) and cross bridges (fallen trees in the back woods) and have a special heart tree (a broken stump shaped like a heart). That was normal for us. As they got older, we played games like Dungeons and Dragons and Munchkin. We battled mutants and dragons in video games. They knew what was imaginary and what wasn't, knew the stump was just a stump even when it looked like a dragon or a crawling sprite, or a heart. But it was funner to let the imagination run with the "what if."
Now I see them conquering crazy things, things I never would've dreamed of them doing, getting master degrees, working with thousand pound animals, driving in crazy heavy traffic (when we are used to near none). It wasn't until I read an article on the value of imaginative play that I thought maybe their goals, their doing wonderfully crazy things with their lives, was because of fighting imaginary dragons with stick swords as kids.
And then I remembered. I remembered people who looked at me as if I was crazy - the people who thought shoving their kid into a sport to take it super serious while slaving over school work was the only good way. Imagination had no value to so many and the kids were not encouraged to have one.
Then I remembered the kids who gravitated to our house. The ones who stayed and returned were often avid readers who could join in our crazy imaginative lives. Books encourage imagination because the words create worlds and characters beyond our "real" lives.
I can't help thinking that it's more dangerous to squeeze the imagination out of our children than to encourage it. Why not encourage them to see luck dragons in the clouds, watch NeverEnding Story, play D&D or any number of imaginative role playing board games? And if they do, join them. It doesn't make them (or you) lazy dreamers out of touch with reality. And if they play on game systems, join in where you can. Nurture your own imagination.
The bonuses of encouraging imagination - it's being able to see beyond our perceived limitations. It's believing you can start a business and see it thrive. It's believing you can take the trip everyone says you can't. It's escaping the worry of the bills to dive inside a novel for an evening. It's forgetting the car broke down to get lost in a movie for a couple hours. It's knowing that all the things that go wrong in life aren't as big as they feel in the moment. It's being able to handle everything life throws at us a little
It's also about creating new things, better things in the world. It's dreaming up new inventions or ways of doing things. It's what we need.
Because "real" life isn't just what is around us. It's also what we can dream it to be if only we are brave enough to do (what seems) the impossible.