by Nicki Smith, Owner and Inspirer at The Creation Station Bath
How to encourage your older children's imaginations and why it's beneficial to do so.
Having spent the last few years working with pre-schoolers, this last year has given me the opportunity to get creative on a more regular basis with primary school children. Working with older children has brought with it all I expected - challenges, laughs, cheekiness, a need for greater organisation, an extra pair of hands and an answer for everything! However, it has also caused me to acknowledge that being creative, artistic and imaginative doesn't seem to get easier the further through school the children get.
'Can you help me?', 'I can't do it', 'I don't know what to do', 'It's rubbish', 'Can I start again?'. Of course there is no harm in asking for help and nothing wrong in trying to do your best. But what has hit me is that in a group of mixed abilities and mixed age groups, the younger (KS1) children will invariably get stuck in, lifting the pencil or paintbrush immediately and with relish. The older (KS2) children are wracked with indecision, refusing to put pencil to paper without an eraser handy, looking to others for tips and fearing putting a foot (finger) wrong.
These children enjoy art. They are bright and strong children. They are creative and many show real talent in artistic activities, so where does this lack of confidence in their imaginative ability come from? Is this the point that they leave the childish world of make-believe and imaginary play and enter the adult realms grounded in reality? And if so, should this be happening so young?
The benefits of imaginary play in early years are well documented - role play, creative play and imaginary play are ways in which the young child tries out skills, techniques and situations which will eventually help them to make sense of the adult world and allow them to integrate into the society around them. Integrating into that adult world inevitably means putting that imaginative play aside and casting out make-believe, but when do we expect this to happen? When are we happy for our children to give up their imagination? Surely we don't want this to occur too early? Personally, I feel really sad that it might be happening before the end of primary school.
Many blame TV, video games and movies for the decline of imagination in children - they are providing too many of the answers and outcomes and not allowing our kids to think for themselves. Some point to the highly structured routine that our children fit into - from school to club to group to bath to bed and repeat - which leaves them with little time to muse and space to imagine. Others point to the decline in reading to children which, frankly, is a discussion all to itself!
Many others are more than happy to blame our schools and education system. We are all familiar with the emphasis that schools are forced/encouraged to place on the more important elements of the curriculum - numeracy, literacy and science. We are also very aware of the pressure placed on the school to record the progress of all pupils and on fulfilling the required targets. Some would say that in this sort of environment, imagination and creative play must simply play second fiddle as the child goes through the school years. From my experience, it really is tricky to lead 30 children on an creative, artistic journey and to allow them the freedom to truly exercise their imagination. With limited time, resources and targets flashing in the background, I can understand completely how art activities at school quickly become an exercise of getting 30 children from A to B with as little deviation as possible.
When I started thinking about this article I contacted some of my friends who are teachers. They confirmed that having to concentrate on the core areas "forces creativity to the sidelines of the curriculum unless the school is very well led, by brave and inspirational leadership and has the freedom to indulge in wonderfully creative timetables that embrace and enjoy the brilliance of a creative thematic curriculum." Strong words hey? But it certainly ties in with what I have found on my travels.
But you know what? I am most certainly not here to criticise teachers, head teachers or even the teaching system. As parents, we can and probably should take some responsibility in this area. What my recent experience has shown me is that bringing creative and imaginative activities to children of all ages is really important. Regardless of how that happens.
It has been shown that successful adults are often imaginative (and vice versa). Think of J.K Rowling, Walt Disney, Steve Jobs and James Dyson. Imagination encourages problem-solving, empathy and invention - all qualities vaunted in entrepreneurs and successful business people. As parents, surely we need to be encouraging our children's imaginations to keep going as long as possible! This is a quality which can serve them well and help them in the big, bad adult world.
So how do we do that? Here are some ideas which should be 'older child-proof!'
Draw by example
Do you like drawing, sketching or doodling? You absolutely don't have to be a great artist to show your child the joy of doodling! Buy a sketch book that you and your child can work on together. Take a page for you to draw on and your child can draw on the opposite side - create a masterpiece together or sketch a design on one page and allow your child to continue your design on the other.
Colouring outside of the lines
When was the last time you did some colouring? Trust me, it's time you dug out that colouring book. Colouring is sooo therapeutic! It is relaxing, satisfying and a great way to spend some quality, quiet time with your child. This is especially useful if your child is a bit younger. Don't forget to chat while you colour - whether it's about the day, the weather or the scene you are colouring.
What happened next?
This is a fantastic car journey game when the kids have grown out of 'I spy'. The task is to invent your own story with a bit of help from all the family members. "Once upon a time, there was a ........" Each family member contributes their own sentence to weave a personal and imaginative story.
I start, you finish
This is a great way of extending your child's imagination if they naturally enjoy drawing or painting. Take a large piece of paper and glue an image onto it. This could be cut from a newspaper or magazine, drawn by you or be a printed design or pattern. Your child's project is to extend this image or drawing and turn it into their own masterpiece. Don't forget to encourage your child to talk about their creation.
Numeracy is important. Literacy is important. Science is important.......but so is imagination. It's a scary, grown-up world out there and I think that our children will fare better if we can keep their imaginations active. Who knows? Maybe they will become the next J.K Rowling or James Dyson?