How to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination in Ten Easy Steps

(Welcome!! Even if you haven’t read “Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child” by Anthony Esolen, I’d still love for you to join the conversation! There is SO MUCH to this book, and I’d love to write about it all, but I’m trying really hard to make this NOT sound like a term paper, so I’m just going to add in bits and pieces as I go.   Please join us in the comments with your thoughts, from the book or just your own ideas! I can’t wait to hear from everyone! :))


That was pretty much my children’s reaction when they saw my copy of “Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of your Child” by Anthony Esolen hanging around the house these past few weeks.

To say they were surprised is an understatement. I believe Katie said, “Um, Mommy? I thought you wanted us to have imaginations?” Needless to say, they were much relieved to hear that it was indeed a play on words. After all, I’m the one who’s usually standing in the family room while they’re watching TV saying, “Pleeeeeeeese, turn it off! I can see your brains oozing out of your ears as I speak!!!” Granted, I’m usually the one who either said yes to their requests, or begged them to put on a half hour show.

Still, nothing makes my heart sing more than to see that their imaginations are off and running. For years, my oldest has jumped out of his seat on an almost daily basis saying, “I’ve got an idea!” and would be off and running, usually to take something apart or put something else together. There’s always something to be cleaned up, but my engineer is hard at work building his brain, and I love it. James can usually be found writing and illustrating, and we’ve got books and books and books of his lying around the house. Katie has been writing, too, but I’ve been watching in amazement as she has sat patiently for hours, creating sewing projects, new stuffed animals, animal games for her younger brothers….and of course, the forts, the Lego projects, paper towel rolls turned into weaponry; there’s really no end to the creativity around here.

Before I get too carried away with my own experience, lets start looking at the book.  I’ve tried writing this post a few times, and in the end, its turning into work.  So, here’s what I”m going to do.  I’m breaking this up into a ten-part installment.  Some days will have more from the book, some will have more from my experience.  Sound good? Awesome.

Before he even gets into the methods, Esolen introduces the over-arching idea of keeping facts vauge and not letting children form intimate associations with Truth. He starts with a story from “Hard Times”, by Charles Dickens. In this story, the headmaster of the school thrives on his pupils having memorized cold hard facts about things, in this instance, horses, without actually having met a horse. Spitzer, the first student,shows his “educational proweress” by reciting all he knows about horses, but Cissy, the new student, who couldn’t possibly know the same facts, has formed a relationship with these animals, “She has ridden upon horses, seen them give birth, combed them and curried them, and watched as her father salved their sores or rubbed them with liniment. She knows them in a way that only life with them reveals.” (pg4) The methods of destroying imagination that Esolen proposes will prevent a child from having experiences like this little girl, and in the end, will prevent them from being able to think much further from what they were taught to think.

Method 1: Keep your Child Indoors as Much as Possible, or They Used to Call it Air
What parent hasn’t found themselves pushing the kids outside, if not only for their own sanity, but also because instinctively, we know that kids need to get. out. side. Really, EVERYONE does. We spent a day camping this weekend, and watching the kids in the forest is amazing. As soon as their feet hit the dirt, they were exploring. The first thing they explored was the environment around them. We’re smack dab in the middle of a seventeen year cicada invasion in these here parts, and the kids were fascinated by them, listening to their mating call, finding the shells they shed before they headed off to the tree leaves, and my personal favorite (not), looking up and seeing them in the trees above. Kids will always find something interesting, but what caught my attention was watching them climb trees, where they explored their physical abilities (instead of being told to get off the back of the couch) or work on problem solving, as several wanted to make bows and arrows, but weren’t sure what materials they should use.  They were flexing their mental muscles, doing what they wanted to do, thinking about what interested them and running off when they felt like it.

This what we call “letting kids be kids.”  Unfortunatley, this type of experience is becoming fewer and farther between.  Many kids find themselves shuttled from one scheduled event to the next, with little to no downtime.  Without time to rest their minds, they are at best, restless and grouchy, but the hidden danger lies in their inability to learn how to amuse themselves, how to overcome boredom, and the lost opportunity to discover not only things around them, but things about themselves, because they just don’t have the time to do so.  Granted, with our personalities, our family needs involvement in different activities.  But with the boys in school this year, (you might hear this theme a lot in this series 😉 ) I’ve found that their constant state of being “on” with activities made it very difficult to relax when they had the time, and once they got into the rhythm of slowing down and delving headfirst into something they loved on their own, they became more insightful.

Like I said earlier, please join in the conversation!  This book is so packed that I realized that I’m not going to be able to do just one review, so my intention is to look at a chapter a week.  We’ll see how this goes!


About Anne McD @ourlittlenthouse

Hey! I'm a stay at home, Catholic mom of 7, former homeschooler, now public schooler. Welcome to our crazy. Please excuse the noise.
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10 Responses to How to Destroy Your Child’s Imagination in Ten Easy Steps

  1. Colby says:

    Great post! I read the book For the Family’s Sake. I heard it mentioned by the moderator of a radio show who interviewed Mrs. Andres. Anyway, the author recommends sending kids outside for 3 hours a day! Our kids get frustrated that Mike insists on 1 hour. Winters are intense all cooped up inside; when spring finally rolls around I feel much more alive. I remember the cicadas from my childhood in MD. This must be what- the third time in my lifespan so far?

    • Oooh, I’ll have to look into that one, Colby! Three hours a day– that would be wonderful! I wish my kids would/could get out more. The boys have 6 more days of school, and so our days will continue to be crammed and disjointed until next week. We’re also in a weird spot– we’re on a cul de sac in a nice neighborhood, but the backyard is small and the kids really don’t want to be back there, and if they’re out front, they need adult supervision (not the very oldest, at least). I would love to have more room for them to just “be.” I grew up on a 3/4 of an acre, but I thought it was five, and all around the house, the environment was so different from spot to spot. I loved it. I wish my kids could have the same.

      • Sarah says:

        We live in a suburban neighborhood with a boring yard too. Blech. Someday we will have climbing trees! Places to hide and get lost and explore! For now, we do the best we can. The air is still fresh out there, even if there is pavement under their feet more often than foliage.

  2. Wow – great minds think alike ~ or at least on the same wave length, Anne! I’m reading Richard Louv’s “The Nature Principle” (and posting on it later today). He posits that creativity (or lack thereof) is linked to how much time we spend in nature. It’s a fascinating read so far! Good on ya for taking the kids out in nature and letting them explore.

    • Ah, another good read to look into! There’s also “The Nature Deficit Disorder”, which is along the same lines. Don’t think too highly of me– they’re watching Mickey right now. :p

  3. Sarah says:

    I loved this book! I underlined like crazy and wrote lots of notes in the margins, so I’ll try to come back later and chat about those.

    I think you really hit on something big at the end of this post, though: time. Laura Berquist says she had no idea why her kids didn’t read more often for pleasure, until she brought them home to homeschool. She then realized that reading requires a reflective attitude that is only achieved with wide spaces of time. I see this in my own kids- reading, thinking, pondering, being… None of it can happen well if we are over scheduled.

    Specifically as it relates to being outdoors, you can’t schedule poetic knowledge into a 30 minute outside play time. There has to be some level of freedom there for the imagination to be properly cultivated.

    Looking forward to more of your posts on this!

    • You’re so right about the need for time. My boys have had no time to themselves since November (considering what they used to have) and they just don’t get into the same things that they used to. I was so sad to see that my second son wasn’t reading and writing for fun anymore. Then, after this weekend, he sat on Sunday afternoon and worked on another book. I think time outdoors really does open the mind to do so much. I know that whenever I get overwhelmed in my house, getting outside clears my head.

      I was thinking today about how everything in life boils down to relationships (okay, I might be oversimplifying, but bear with me 😉 ) In order to grow in a relationship with someone, we need to spend time with them, learning about them by listening and being with them. Prayer draws us closer to God, and the more time we spend with Him, the closer we become to Him and know Him. To get to know yourself, you need to spend time on your own.

      Cutting this short– a 20month old is trying to spend more time with me. 🙂

  4. Kathy says:

    I’m looking forward to this series of posts and discussions. I have been devouring the book and so eager to discuss it with others. I agree about the notion of ‘time’, kids need it and I also ere on turning on a show some days instead of letting them be bored enough to kick those imaginations into gear. The book has been great at discouraging me from relying on screen time to fill in bored time.

    • I think its safe to say we all do (unless you don’t have a tv at all)! Sometimes, I need the break, and I wish I didn’t rely on it, but maybe if I keep the TV to a bare minimum in the first place, I won’t feel so bad when I pull it out of my back pocket as a backup?

      Maybe we should have a discussion on how we can get the kids outside?

  5. Pingback: June Goals, Revised (and other random musings)

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