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How to encourage imagination and creativity

Zipping between school and the next extracurricular activity has become a way of life for families today.  Perhaps we need to iphone-schedule unstructured time for imagination and creativity. Allowing the brain time to wander stimulates critical and lateral thinkers, who are able to play with ideas and imagine several possibilities and outcomes.  Research shows that kids who have more time to create and imagine are often able to sustain focus on other intellectual tasks for longer periods of time. There is nothing airy-fairy about that!

How do we teach imagination?  ”Okay, everybody turn off all electronics, stop what you’re doing and become imaginative.  NOW!”  Don’t think so.

Catherine Davis is a Calgary-based artist, who teaches kids and adults out of her home’s garage studio. Watching Catherine interact with the kids at my daughter’s art themed birthday, it struck me that she wasn’t just teaching art.  She was actually teaching kids how to tap into their imaginations and create.   Everything from her studio to her approach is calculated to facilitate the creative process. Here are some observations I’ve made from watching her classes over the last five years. I think the pictures will speak louder than words:

1- CREATE AN INSPIRATIONAL SPACE. A variety of colourful and descriptive books helps to get the creative juices flowing and stimulate drama, painting, music, and play.   Note the seating area for kids to relax and flip through the books.  Kids’ creations are displayed, providing additional inspiration and technical ideas.  I love this space, and kids love it too!


2-  THE PROCESS IS FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE PRODUCT. Many kids and adults lack confidence in their technical abilities to write, act, draw, sing, play an instrument, or to make any object. Recognize that expectation of a perfect product is an impediment to creativity. The goal should be to play with ideas, and to allow the brain to dig deeper.    At the party, Catherine didn’t tell the kids what to draw.  She put some fresh flowers on the table for inspiration, and just talked with them about ideas and books.  When kids “can’t think of anything,” Catherine guides the process by gently asking open-ended questions.    ”I hear you love owls.  You might get some cool ideas on owls from looking at this book.”  ”I heard you just got back from Mexico….”

3- KEEP “PLAY” MATERIALS WITHIN EASY REACH. Whether it’s dress up clothes, books, papers, paints, pencils, or toys, make them easily available for all kinds of creative play.  I love the paper as tablecloths for kids to doodle and sketch their ideas.

4- IF A PRODUCT EMERGES, CELEBRATE THAT MOMENT! Catherine frames all the kids’ work, which makes them look rather professional.  Allow kids to share the fruits of their creative labour with you, and enjoy it together.  You don’t have to frame all your kids’ work or sit through every little skit, but sometimes it’s good to have a special place or moment for creative endeavours.

My 5-year old son, whose idea of relaxation is “Plants versus Zombies,” said, “That was a really fun party. I just used my imagination.”  Teachers like Catherine remind me why it’s important to schedule the unscheduled, and to let the brain take its course.


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