Imagination: Where Learning Comes to Life
November 3, 2017
“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge, but imagination.”
Whether your family recognizes or celebrates events like Halloween, the inherent themes of creativity, transformation, and imaginary play are also key concepts in education. Recently, our students tapped into that creativity as they dressed in costume for a day. The effect of allowing students to transform themselves into various characters, paired with learning activities aligned with this sense of invention and reinvention was as positive as it was powerful.
In visiting schools and interacting with our students, I found they were overjoyed at taking on the “identity” of a favorite character, a superhero, a construction worker, a doctor, a princess, a machine, and more. As I looked at the fun they were having, the question came to mind: “What is it about pretending to be someone/something else that is so fun?” As a parent of six children, I know that candy can be a motivator for getting kids into costumes on Halloween; but beyond that, there is a reward that lasts beyond the moment, the day. There is much to be learned through pretending.
It has been researched and confirmed that the process of pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas. Teachers know the power of harnessing imagination to help our students learn, particularly difficult skills and concepts.
There are many benefits of allowing children to dress up in costume and pretend, including:
- Nurturing Imagination – It allows for our children to play without rules or a script. They get to develop the environment that their character will exist in. This lends itself to artistic expression (drawing or building their character’s world), telling stories (developing their character’s history and purpose), and building confidence (providing a sense of autonomy that often carries over into real life).
- Communication Skills – The children begin to share stories, adventures of what they would do or where they would go if they were the character they are portraying. This verbal or written expression spans the curriculum, from improving vocabulary, developing sequencing in a story, incorporating science (perhaps their character is like a bird who can fly), comparing and contrasting different “worlds” each child’s character may inhabit, and even math (how fast their character can run or fly, determining how tall or short their character is, calculating how large their imaginary “world” needs to be). The possibilities are endless.
- Social Development – The fun of peeling off one character and putting on the garb of another can be freeing. Children also begin to understand the life that comes along with being their character. They begin to better understand likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and similarities based on the character and “world” they inhabit. From this grows empathy and perhaps a new understanding of their classmates and the world around them. There is something to be said for walking in someone else’s shoes, even if it’s just for a day.
As children get older, these educational benefits grow. One day they’re in costume… pretending… the next, they’re writing an essay paper from the author’s point of view, debating a hot topic by understanding both sides of the issue well, building skills toward becoming that nurse or construction worker or musician, and in general, going out into the larger world, making a difference.
I think in the long run, it allows for our children to plan forward. As adults, and especially ones that work in schools, we need to adopt this same view — the long view — looking ahead, planning, and ensuring that our children continue to have opportunities to use their imagination, communicate with others, and find enjoyment in their daily lives.
The funny thing is that many people may love to learn, but not all people love school. We have to ask ourselves the hard question: “Why is the place synonymous with learning in the United States not seen as the most invigorating and exciting environment around?” Learning institutions, schools, need to keep in touch with the people they serve, sometimes touching on the out of the ordinary or imaginative play.
To be realistic, every day could not operate in totality the way it did this past Halloween. However, the recipe we subscribe to in Forest Ridge School District 142 is that if we really know your students and then utilize what we know about them to specifically, intentionally plan lessons that consider them as individuals, students will be more engaged in what they’re learning. For too long our school systems have been about tests, curriculum, politics, and adults. If we really want to have quality schools that produce amazing results in a place where children want to be, we need to create and nurture schools where Children Always Come First!