Originally posted at Lifting the Curtain blog during my blog tour, I have reposted it here.
When my wife and I had our first child, we began to think very seriously about her education. My wife had worked with children quite a bit, both in the public school system (as an AmeriCorps volunteer) and in others ways, such tutoring at the Boys & Girls club, summer camp counselor, theatre director, etc..
Her outlook, as well as my own personal experiences with both attending public school and substitute teaching there (and to some extent my college level teaching) definitely formed our opinions about the ways we wanted our own children to be educated.
One of the main reasons we initially homeschooled was because we thought that 5 years old was too young to be in a structured environment all day. I personally remember hating going to school in the early grades (I had to wake up early, ride the bus, be around people all day, etc.). We wanted our children to have as much time as possible to explore, imagine, and play outside. Consequently, our kindergarten, first, and second grade schooling was very informal. We use A Beka curriculum, which is actually pretty rigorous, but has quite a bit of repetition built in to the lesson plans, which lends itself to a more laid back approach to school – 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, with plenty of down time in between.
This way, our children can take the time they need to really work out their creative muscles. I find that our children (and I’m sure they are not unique in this) need a lot of down time to get into a good imaginative groove. When I was young, even if my brother and I had been playing for hours on a weekend, I always felt like things were just getting good when dinner would be ready, or we’d have to go in for bathtime or bedtime or something like that. Even last week, my older daughters were playing with their legos in their room for a long time, but still complained “Oh Mom, we were just getting to the exciting part!” when she called them to dinner. (I think she let them stay and finish playing for a while longer.)
Being able to spend this much time in “imaginings” is truly a luxury. If a child is at school all day, being constantly interrupted by the teacher, other children, or the school bell, where do they get this practice at focusing on one thing for a long period of time, and get to the place of deep creativity? Yes, it can happen after school, but not when there’s an hour or more of homework. Besides, what if the child is in little league or ballet classes or something of that nature? Team sports and extracurricular activities can be great, but not at the expense of downtime or creative playing, in my opinion. After all, that is where my first forays into storytelling began – it was in playtime with my siblings.
I find that as a writer, I also need to give myself time to get into my creative groove. I often have to go out somewhere (like Starbucks or Panera) after my wife gets off work to write so that I can more quickly “get to the exciting part” of the writing process, where ideas are flowing and the story starts to come to life. When I was first started writing Scar of the Downers, I would wait until everyone was asleep. Then, I would completely immerse myself in that world for hours at a time, and found that as I did so, the scenes would visually play out in my head, enabling me to more clearly describe the action. This was incredibly helpful when I was trying to write out action sequences, which require accurate description of a lot of things sometimes all happening simultaneously.
Writing fiction is all about the imagination. Watching my children daily tap into theirs was inspiring to me and showed me that to fully imagine my story, I just needed to do what they did – fully immerse myself into the story and stay there long enough to capture it and write it down.
But if I were to send my children away to school, I would have missed this part of their lives- their innocence, their inquisitiveness, their imagination. In one sense, to write fantasy, you have to look at the world with the same wonder a child does, and ask yourself, “What if?” What if this burning log was the body of a phantom? What if these pine needles were really creatures’ fingers? What if the ground could come alive? What if? What if? What if?
Children ask these questions. And they are answered with imagination. That is what being around them, and homeschooling them, has done. It enabled me to remember myself as a child. It enabled me to ask those same questions. What if?
In my opinion, it is the beginning of all fantasy.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.