by Badariah Khalid
Children’s cognitive development during early years drives them to do activities involving imagination and creativity. Concrete operational thought enables the young tots to begin using mental images and symbols during the thinking process. Cognitive development will certainly enhance the children’s ability to think at high order and developing creative imagination.
Sir Ken Robinson who is an expert in learning and children’s education, explained that ‘imagination is the source of all human achievement‘, representing one of the key components of creativity and innovation.
Creativity and cognitive ability such as problem solving are among the basic skills which everyone will develop as each child has to deal with an everyday challenges be it at home or at school. But in order to come out with innovative ideas a child will have to learn to think outside the box, which requires him to use his imagination and sees things beyond horizon.
Imagination and symbolic thoughts are essential in the learning process and can further enrich cognitive development. Teaching young children about historical events, experiencing diversity of cultures, and meeting with people outside their own circles would definitely boost their imagination. Imaginative play is a way for them to discover the world that surrounds them and collect experiences.
Through imaginary games and storytelling children tend to adapt learning habits, develop their communication skills and improve their vocabulary. By using their senses and bodies, they can move around and develop their muscles and increase neurological connections in their brains.
The best way to develop young children’s imagination skills is by reading books. The children’s book are full of colors. Colorful illustrations in a book can spring inspiration in creating their own story or adding to the one they are reading.
There is no straightforward definition to what is imagination. Many have debated on what constitutes imagination. However most would agree that imagination process involves components such as:
- Mental constructs
- The ability to imagine things that are not real
- The ability to form a picture in the mind of something that have not been seen or experience
- The ability to think of new things
- something that only exists or happens in the mind
- Problem solving (application of knowledge and imagination to the situation)
- Able to produce an outcome of value and worth
Making up stories
Creating own stories is a great way to trigger children’s imagination and symbolic thoughts. It is similar to reading a book. A teacher can start crafting a story and encourage the children to fill in the details. To enhance the imagination further, the teacher can encourage them to become the main characters in the story book and create their own adventures.
Use props and toys
There are so many things that can be used to create a story. Empty boxes can become cars or trains or fortresses as well as superhero’s tunnels. A blanket can turn into an open sea, a pillow into a whale. There are no boundaries to the imaginations. All it needs to do is to foster creativity in young children’s mind to help them grow emotionally and socially. Even small household items can spur the fantasy and motivate them to craft their own story. Toys like wooden blocks or water tables are among the best options as they can be used in many different ways based on children’s imagination to create a new world and their own environments. The teachers may use the approach inspired by Reggio Emilia which includes activities with open-ended materials to support children’s cognitive and social development.
Taking children to visit a museum or gallery
Galleries and museums are not for adult only. A painting or a photo can be the beginning of a story for young children. The teachers are to observe them and see what captures their attention. Imaginations form visual storytelling. The children will be able build a story around the artwork.
The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development
Many people often think of play in the form of images of young children after engaging in games and physically exploring their environments. But physical play is not the only kind of play. We often use the terms pretend play or make-believe play (the acting out of stories which involve multiple perspectives and the playful manipulation of ideas and emotions), that reflect a critical feature of the child’s cognitive and social development. Many theorists and researchers have identified the values of such imaginative play as a vital component to the normal development of a child.
Systematic research has increasingly demonstrated a series of clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about two and one half through ages six or seven. Actual studies have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives. The important concept of “theory of mind,” an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is closely related to imaginative play (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).
Psychologist Sandra Russ (2004) identified a number of different cognitive and affective processes that are associated with pretend play. Her research dealing with play involves fantasy, make-believe, symbolism, organization, cognitive integration of seemingly separate content, and divergent thinking (the ability to come up with many different ideas, story themes, and symbols). Pretend play or symbolic play allow the expression of both positive and negative feelings, and the modulation of affect, the ability to integrate emotion with cognition (Jent, Niec, & Baker, 2011; Seja, & Russ, 1999; Slade and Wolf, 1999).
The research reviewed by Berk, Mann & Ogan, (2006) and Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer (2009) suggest that make-believe games are forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy. When children use toys to introduce possible scenarios or friends, the representation of multiple perspectives occurs naturally. Taking on different roles allows children the unique opportunity to learn social skills such as communication, problem solving, and empathy (Hughes, 1999).
The Importance of Imagination
Do children today use their imaginations as much as much as the kids before them? Do we see the children spinning incredible tales and stories in their fantasy playing “teacher at school” or “main masak-masak”? In the world of child development, the phrases like “critical thinking skills” and “creative problem-solving abilities” when they are actually referring to child’s cognitive development that is… imagination. The way to create human beings with imagination is to provide them with opportunities to develop it for themselves when they are at young age. These opportunities can only be found through play that is playing with paints, playing with play dough, with costumes, with glue and with crayons or even pretending to be a fish swimming in a deep blue sea.
Nurturing Imagination for Child Development
Einstein once said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Imagination is an open door to all possibilities. It is where creativity, ingenuity, and thinking outside the box begin for child development. Imaginative and pretend play is how children learn about the world. During imaginative play, children manipulate materials, express themselves verbally and non-verbally, plan (intentionally or unintentionally), act, interact, react, and try different roles. Great opportunities for learning are possible when children participate in pretend play with dolls, vehicles, blocks, rocks, cardboard, boxes, or manipulate play dough, create recipes by mixing dirt and water, work with art materials, splash in puddles, or pretend to fly.
Imagination help to foster cognitive and social development. In early childhood education, critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving abilities are the ultimate goals for children’s development. Using imagination, trying new ways of doing things, and experimenting help and foster creative problem solving. Imagination builds social-emotional development by allowing children to anticipate different resolutions, hence boosting children’s confidence.. Imagination and creativity are complete skills which young children need in order to prepare them for their future.
How to Nurture & Encourage Children’s Imagination
Below are tips and suggestions for nurturing a young child’s imagination:
- Encourage outdoor activities. Nature is ever evoling, it provides vast opportunities for discovery, creativity, and problem solving. Nature inspires children to think, question, make suppositions and develop curious minds. Children can draw in sand, build houses with leaves, build fences with branches, or simply lie on the ground and look up for the birds at the sky.
- Create scenarios. Encourage the children to create a scenario. They will create lots of different roles and organizing thoughts, at the same time they develop social and verbal skills. Encourage the children to play house, acting as doctors, zoo keepers, or astronauts . The teacher may join in the pretend play by taking on a role herself. Play with stuffed toys or puppets (make simple puppets by putting your hand in a sock). Allow the child take their lead during playtime.
- Songs, rhymes and riddles. Play “Row, Row Your Boat” or “Lagu Tiga Kupang” or making up lyrics to common tunes. Verbal interactive activities can inspire and nurture imaginative minds. Simultaneously, these activities build vocabulary and help the children learn the sound of letters.
- Art activities. Art is creative expression that nurtures imagination. Art is a way for children to work through emotions, make decisions and express their ideas through painting, sculpture, collage, clay, drawing or any other medium. Manipulating art materials provides a sense of freedom and individuality that encourages focus and concentration. Art activities also develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Furthermore, art activities build confidence because children gain a sense of mastery over materials resulting in a new creation.
- Literacy activities. Share with children the ending of a story. Encourage prediction how the story will end. Using children’s imagination, discuss the story will end. Make up stories where the child is main the character; propose moral dilemmas. Take turns making up a continuing story.
- Ask thought-provoking questions. Asking questions that provoke imaginative and creative thinking is an effective way to invite children to express their ideas and share their visions and thoughts.
- Carry out activities in a relaxed manner. Unstructured, unscheduled time allows children opportunities to imagine and create.
Creative teachers promote creative imagination
Creative teaching are the key components in fostering creativity in young children. Many writers such as Tegano et al. (9), Mellou (14), Craft (15), Runco (20) and Edwards and Springate (21), highlight the role of the teacher in providing the optimum balance between structure and freedom of expression for young children. They explain that teachers and other early childhood educators can encourage creativity by:
- asking open-ended questions
- tolerating ambiguity
- modelling creative thinking and behaviour
- encouraging experimentation and persistence
- praising children who provide unexpected answers.
Malaguzzi (1993) has made a number of observations about the best conditions for developing creativity in children’s daily experience, which include an emphasis on interaction with adults and peers (p. 76)
The most favourable situation for creativity seems to be interpersonal exchange, with negotiation of conflicts and comparison of ideas and actions being the decisive elements.
Runco (2003) argues that teachers should show an interest in children’s creative potential and encourage children to construct their own personal interpretations of knowledge and events.
Imagination is an important human characteristic. It is the process, requiring various elements, including abilities and skills. Early years educators can help young children to develop their imagination by providing creative environments, helping children to build their imaginative skills through play. Some children may be aloof in expressing themselves and this may hinder the expression of their imagination. The teachers can help by observing their behavior especially during imaginative play and plan for action. This way teachers can harness the imaginative thoughts and expression of the young tots.