Column: The gift of imagination

"I grew up in a world of building blocks, Legos, Fisher-Price people, My Little Pony and Barbie dolls….They were toys that made you use your imagination."

"I grew up in a world of building blocks, Legos, Fisher-Price people, My Little Pony and Barbie dolls….They were toys that made you use your imagination."

You know, sometimes doing things the old-fashioned way can really make a difference.

My husband recently got a number of new electronic toys for his birthday - specifically, a new computer, a new iPhone 5 and a new iPad that is in transit.

I can't begrudge him his new toys because a year ago I got a new computer for my birthday and have an iPhone and an iPad on my Christmas list.

But as I watched him play with his new phone last night, I thought about my nieces who will grow up in a world full of electronic gadgets.

I grew up in a world of building blocks, Legos, Fisher-Price people, My Little Pony and Barbie dolls. Board games required you to plot your next move.

They were toys that made you use your imagination.

Today's toys don't seem to require that much mental activity. Most of the toys I've looked over in stores and online for my nieces tout how great they are for hand/eye coordination, rote memory learning and future computer skills. Which is nice, but I still think encouraging a child's imagination is the most important feature of a toy.

I think a great imagination leads not only to more curiosity about the world around them but to smarter kids who seek out answers to their questions and can think on their feet.

As every child finds out, sometimes curiosity can get you into trouble, but even that provides a life lesson. It teaches that there are consequences to their actions that sometimes aren't that pleasant.

Maybe I'm biased. My job frequently requires me to think outside of the box. I have to consider why someone is coming to me with a story idea. What do they get out of me putting a story in the paper?

There are times I have to figure out how to write something that doesn't sound like I just pulled it off of a court document - even though I got the information from a court document.

That's why for the last four years I've gone out of my way to find toys for my nieces that require them to use their imagination. I've bought them toy food, paper doll books, child-sized gardening tools and coloring books. Last year for Christmas, I sent them three little suitcases and filled them with dress up clothes, such as a nurse's cap, doctor's stethoscope and other items.

According to their dad, they love the toys and play with them longer than some of the other gifts they get.

I can't imagine what computers and electronic gadgets my nieces will have to learn how to use when they're old enough to move into the workforce in 20 some years.

I just hope by that time they have developed the imagination to explore outside of whatever electronic box society has put them in.