I have been in the extremely privileged position to visit the Opal School in Portland, Oregon twice. My most recent visit was in June of this year. This school is an amazing place for an early childhood teacher like me, full of beauty, wonder, inspirational teachers and environments set up to provoke children’s wonder and imagination.
I gained an enormous amount of knowledge from each visit, but one thing that really stood out to me was their passion for encouraging children’s thinking and imagination. The power of the imagination is a factor I consider in my daily teaching as I see its full and wondrous potential for lifelong learning, yet at times I feel that imagination is pushed to the outside of learning and considered not particularly relevant or important in terms of education.
I’m often asked why, at Mairtown, we consider developing a child’s imagination to be so important? Why we support play not academics? Why when we engage in inquiry work with the children we don’t give the answers to questions, but allow the children’s imaginations to take them on a journey of their own discovery. This is all because at Mairtown we want to develop children’s critical thinking skills, their creative problem solving – basically their imaginations - with imagination comes discovery and ultimately academics. We know that the only way to create human beings with imagination, is to provide them with opportunities to develop it for themselves when they are very young. These opportunities are found in one place - in play. Play is everywhere at Mairtown. It can be seen when children are creativity playing and engaging in the arts, when they are jumping off our wooden stumps with excited yells, when they are exploring on our nature programme, jumping in a puddle, are pretending to be mums and dads, or a bird gliding through the sky. At Mairtown we are surrounded by play every day.
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Albert Einstein
Many researchers and scientists consider that humans are unique in our endless capacity for imagination. Yet still I feel, imagination is a trait that is not valued or respected nearly as much as it should be.
‘Imagination is not just a cute faculty that children use to weave fantasies: it is one of the most effective tools in the learner’s toolbox. Scientists, designers and executives need a powerful imagination just as painters and novelists, and it can either be developed, through appropriate experience and encouragement, or left to shrivel up’ Guy Claxton
How do we foster imagination at Mairtown? Personally I feel a great deal of this is down to the image we have of the child. We are a group of teachers who see children as their own researchers with their own questions. We don’t always give children the answers all the time, we allow children to create their own questions, ideas and answers – even if at times - the answers given may seem a bit far-fetched to our adult minds.
‘Great ideas have legs. They take you somewhere. With them, you can raise questions that can’t be answered. These unanswerable questions should be a source of comfort. Puzzlements invite the most precious of human abilities to take wing. I speak of imagination, the neglected stepchild of education. (The Satisfactions of Teaching, Educational Leadership (63), 6)
We as adults also collaborate with the children, to wonder alongside them. You may hear us frequently asking, ‘I wonder why that happened, I wonder what that means, What does it make you wonder? We allow children time to think and role model using our own imaginations ‘Let’s use our imaginations and play with ideas; I don’t know the answer but I think it would be fun for us to think about it’.
We work alongside the children in playful inquiry where we, as teachers, provoke and facilitate learning for our children without any specific, predetermined pathway or product in mind. We offer provocations such as open-ended questions, engaging environments, materials and loose parts for children to explore. And we give support by observing, listening, reflecting and encouraging dialogue.
We see play as an attitude and one that gives importance to the creative flow and joyful activity that children so naturally engage in.
‘The potential of the child is stunted when the endpoint of their learning is formulated in advance (Edwards, Gandini & Forman, 1998, The Hundred Languages of Children).
Hei konā mai,