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Do your kids have a wild imagination? Do they transform simple objects into anything and everything and spend hours making up dramatic stories? In the book Saturday Safari by Caren Cantrell, the main character Elliott takes readers on a thrilling outdoor adventure.
But you will soon discover that he’s just a boy with a huge imagination that can take him around the globe. He turns ordinary objects throughout his neighborhood into a safari ride filled with danger, excitement, and tons of fun. However, what he sees isn’t always what it appears to be: a sprinkler turns into a waterfall, a referee at a soccer game turns into a zebra, and a hose turns into a snake.
Benefits of Imaginative Play
Although you might sometimes wonder if children’s creative, made-up stories are silly and a waste of time, you’ll be happy to learn that imaginative play like Elliott’s adventure has many incredible benefits. It helps children learn to solve their own problems, control their own lives, develop interests, learn about the world around them, and practice many skills that are necessary for healthy development.
Imaginative play also helps children feel happier, calmer, and more confident. Peter Gray, Ph.D., psychology research professor focusing on children’s natural ways of learning and the life-long value of play, points out that “In play, children learn how to regulate their fear and anger and thereby how to maintain emotional control in threatening real-life situations.” Imagination helps children act out what might be bothering them so they can process their emotions and move forward. By creating visual images in their own mind, they can explore both the physical world and inner self to help stretch their perspective.
Child educational psychologist Charlotte Reznick, Ph.D., focuses on how a child’s imagination can heal. She says that children are particularly open to and good at harnessing their imagination as a way to cope with common problems like anxiety. By learning how to use their imagination in this way, they will be able to manage emotions and challenges more effectively throughout their lives. She encourages children to use their imagination to visit a special place in their mind, much like Elliott does in Saturday Safari by creating his own safari.
Exploring the Outdoors
Another really important aspect of this book is that it is all about nature and outdoor play. Being outside and connecting with nature provides a sense of well-being and offers solace and comfort unlike what we can find in any man-made environment. Spending time in nature has a calming effect, reducing stress and anxiety. It also can improve mood. Numerous studies show that sunshine, fresh air, and outdoor exercise lead to a positive mood and reduce depression. Being around and observing natural settings also increases children’s ability to focus and learn. In fact, outdoor free play stimulates a child’s imagination, so nature and imagination go hand-in-hand.
Even if the specific elements of nature are imagined by our children—like the tractor that Elliott visualizes as a giraffe—the benefits of nature still abound. Closing our eyes and visualizing peaceful ocean waves or a colorful sunset can soothe and calm us. Therefore, when our children imagine nature during their creative play, they can feel happier and calmer.
Photography is also an important part of this story that has emotional benefits for children. Photography is a wonderful art form that helps reduce stress and anxiety. According to sound-mind.org, “…this particular stress management skill allows you to place your focus outside of yourself. Photography is a creative and fun hobby that can help distract you from the stress, anxiety, and depression you may be feeling.”
Essentially, photography serves as a type of mindfulness meditation in which we get lost in the moment and experience a sense of flow while snapping photos with our camera. It can be quite calming to take photographs, especially of gorgeous nature and awe-inspiring images.
The artwork by illustrator Gail Maguire throughout this book does a lovely job representing what Elliott sees in his mind. It is detailed and colorful, and the best part is at the end when we see the images side by side to understand what objects Elliott so inventively transformed with his imagination into a safari.
Saturday Safari is all about encouraging our children to tap into their imagination to see the world in a new way. As Elliott’s mom did at the end of the book, we can encourage our children to explore through their own imagination. Reading this book to them will inspire them to want to get more creative. Here are some other tips to get their imaginative juices flowing.
- Make plenty of time for free play—minus the electronics.
- Encourage simple play like jumping rope, blowing bubbles, making up their own dances, and going on a nature walk.
- Ask them to describe common objects around your house in a new light and to make up a story about them.
- Sit in your backyard and invite your children to describe what they see if it was their dream world.
- Grab a box of random objects and ask them to invent something and to tell or write a story about it.
- Be playful with your kids. It is so important that we model fun free time to our kids. Get on the floor and monkey around with them, pretend you are princesses in a castle, or talk in silly accents. All of this imaginative play will encourage them to do it more often on their own.
About The Author
Caren Cantrell is a children’s book author who writes stories about characters who capture her imagination. They might have a flipper that’s too short or whiskers that curl, or they might just be curious about the world around them. She enjoys writing picture books because the collaboration with an illustrator takes her stories to places the words alone could never go. Currently, she’s dipping her toes into middle grade, writing a science fantasy adventure called The Sun Thief. Caren also has a non-fiction series of books on Kindle that are part of the Planet Discovery Books for Kids series written under the pen name Matthew Taylor. These books are filled with fun facts and photos of the real and mythical creatures on our amazing planet. Caren loves writing for kids, but reading to them is even better. Her three favorite words are: Read It Again!
She lives in Cave Creek, AZ, with her husband, Bill, and little dog, Daisy, but spends much of the year traveling to visit her five children and eight grandchildren. Learn more about Caren’s work at carencantrell.com. You can also follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.