Off the shelf: Encouraging imagination in a preschooler’s home

Photo: Marcy Drewes Photo: Marcy Drewes

Drawings of ponies and dragons frolic across the glass of the large picture window that faces the front of 4-year-old Makenzie Lee’s home. The word pony is written in red washable glass marker.

The Fontaine-area duplex is tidy and decorated with brightly colored accents, Makenzie’s mom Chelsea’s sea-creature themed paintings and, now, Kenzie’s window drawings.

In Kenzie’s bedroom, she pointed out each fabric container on the shelves and names their contents.

“Towels!” she shouted excitedly. “What’s in this one?” Chelsea asked.

Kenzie continued, “Socks and underwear! Coloring stuff! Dress up!” And so on.

Knowing that everything has a place makes clean-up time straightforward and manageable. As her mom explained, “She is meticulous about that. When I say, ‘Kenzie, clean your room’ this is it. I did not clean this.”

Kenzie then headed back to the living room to show off her bookshelf. Dozens of illustrated books line the low shelves, from Shel Silverstein to Dr. Seuss. She opened to the first page of Seuss’ Beyond Zebra! and began to carefully sound out the names of made-up letters with minimal help from her mom. “We normally read whenever she needs to calm down because it is definitely something that refocuses her,” Chelsea said. “We have to read before we go to bed. And it’s normally her just-want-to-do-something-special-just-you-and-me [activity].”

On the other side of the room, along the opposite wall, is another set of shelves with one very special section.

“I actually collect children’s books and have for a long time. So she gets to break out the Chris Van Allsburg and pop-up books that are all M.C. Escher and things like that. Anything that’s, like, Caldecott or a little more, you know, advanced. These are the things that are like, ‘O.K., you’ve been really good so now we get to read something off of [the special shelf]. These are mommy’s books.’”

As a single mom, Chelsea feels it is important to make sure that Kenzie’s home environment remains stable, secure and consistent. Rather than Kenzie shuttling back and forth to her dad’s home, he spends a significant amount of time with her here, in her home. Chelsea said, “It’s one thing that we really take pride in: the fact that we have not disrupted any of the flow.”

Working out a healthy living arrangement for children whose parents live in separate homes can often pose a significant challenge, but by orienting their living around her, Kenzie’s parents seemed to have found a way to keep a balanced living environment that is fertile ground for her growing imagination.

At one point during my visit, Kenzie took a break from drawing pictures at the coffee table to open a lidded basket and put on an impromptu puppet show. The first performer was a rock star sock puppet with a neon pink body. The next was a purple lady with crazy curly hair. Finally, out came a fluorescent yellow guy with a pointy hat. “’I’m the Sandman!’” exclaimed Kenzie. Her creativity and exuberance are in evidence all over her vibrant home and, as her window-drawings show, extend to the world beyond.