Where Imagination Meets Engineering

The 3yo turned 4. Did you hear? Her hours of imaginative play have evolved. Lately she gets it in her head that she want to make a very specific thing. She has apparently boundless faith in my ability to construct anything out of paper, string and tape. Which is endearing, if a little tiresome.

“Oooo, I know! Let’s make a conductor costume!” (?)

“I want to make bunny ears, and bunny feet, and a tail!”

Or, this morning, “Mama, my baby dolls are sick. They need one of those things that people ride in when they’re sick.”

“Umm, you mean a wheelchair? You want to make a wheelchair.”

Fortunately she has low standards. Or rather, a very good imagination.

Today as I racked my brain how to circumvent this daily ‘let’s make something that’s almost impossible to make out of paper and glue’ game, it occurred to me that I need to stop my part in it. I come at the problem with the engineer brain of a 34 year old. She comes at it with the imaginative brain of a 4 year old. We’re not building bridges here, obviously the ball should be in her court.

So, I sat down, gave her my attention, and instead of reluctantly sifting ideas for how to make rolling wheels with an attached frame, I looked at my girl. “How should we do it?” I asked.

Turns out she already had an idea, “Well, we have to put these two bolts together with tape to make the wheels. And….” her eyes scan the room, “this can be the part the dolls sit on.” She pulls out a paper grocery bag.


Here I am thinking we actually have to make some approximation of a wheelchair. That what she wants is a wheelchair.

But whenever we make these random projects, she plays with the thing for maybe ten minutes. What she wants is to make a wheelchair. The making of it, the inventing and imagining of it.

As is so often the case with parenting, when I can just shut my own brain off, and follow her lead, the path is revealed to me.

A handful of bolts, taped onto a paper bag. Wheelchair. Of course.

Why didn’t I think of that?

2 thoughts on “Where Imagination Meets Engineering

  1. Yes so true. Turning off thirty-some years of perfectionism (in my case at least) and letting them lead is the best way. My daughter is the same way, even at seven. She wants to build fairy houses and leprechaun traps and turn herself into a robot or a dragon.

    In fact I just asked her what the wheelchair picture was, just to test if maybe there is some secret kid language.

    Me: “Bella, these dollies are sick. What are they sitting on?”
    Bella: “Carriage?” [I love that this was her first guess]
    Me: “Well, they’re very sick.”
    Bella: “Oh…bed? ambulance?
    Me: “It’s a wheelchair!”
    Bella: “Oh, yeah! Yeah, cool!”

  2. Reminds me of how often kids (and adults for that matter) ask questions that they already know the answers to. I guess sometimes we want our own answer filled out, validated, said outloud, or just to have some company.

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