YMCA Camp Kitaki

The Power of Make Believe

The Power of Make Believe

Recently, we returned from the YMCA Mid America Camping conference, our annual chance to connect with people who, like us, do the work of YMCA camping.  It is always an experience that we take so much from.  New resources, ideas and connections, as well as inspiration to keep working at making the world a better place.  This year the conference was themed around the idea of Neighbors, and even featured our very own Program Director “Sherps” on stage singing the songs of Mr. Rogers.  This, along with the pop culture focus on Mr. Rogers with the recent movie and documentary, got me thinking about one of the key elements of his show.

Make believe.

I think it is pretty tempting to look at make believe as only a part of childhood, and something you leave behind as you age.  More and more I don’t think that is entirely true.  As a child you spend hours creating worlds of the mind to explore, ones that are inhabited by characters you have dreamed up, and you practice making decisions that affect that world.  As you grow older, your understanding and experience with the world around you also grows.  You find complexity that doesn’t need to be created by yourself, but is instead inherent to a world much grander than previously understood.  No longer needing to dreaming up new characters, you meet them daily, fully realized with their own back stories and histories.  However, you never fully leave make believe behind.

Because on a daily basis we as adults make up our way through the world.  Sure, we have a lot of experience to go off of, but how much of our daily decisions are made up on the spot? How often, during big life events like the loss of a loved one or moving to a new city,  are we pretending we know what we are doing, but instead are just creating through the decisions we make the version of reality as we hope it to be?

If make believe is “the action of pretending or imagining that things are better than they really are” than being an adult is making decisions on the faith that the outcome will create a world better than the reality one is currently experiencing. 

Can you really make those decisions without first imagining things better than they really are?

At camp, when kids play an all camp game facing off against alien invaders from another dimension, or helping the gang from Scooby Doo solve a mystery it’s easy to think “it’s all just make believe.”

If you look closer though, it’s practice in helping them picture a better world, and implementing the decisions necessary to make it that way.  Mr. Rogers knew it.  Make believe isn’t just kids’ stuff.   It’s critical human development.

We’ll see you out there next time aliens invade camp.

Jason Smith

Executive Director

Jason Speaks at Ignite Lincoln:  Watch Jason's talk at Ignite Lincoln titled "To Save the World, Send a Kid to Camp"