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The importance of imagination in the early years

This week we are joined by @farr_aa - a reception teacher and Outdoor Lead. She is a Forest Leader in Training and has 3 years of experience in Teaching Reception. She is passionate for all things Early Years and outdoors. She also supports students with essays through a proof reading service! She shares her wisdom on the importance of harnessing imagination in the early years and how this develops our littler learners! You can find her on Instagram as @farr_aa

Imagination is defined as ‘the ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful’. Or as I like to see it ‘You’re entirely bonkers, but I’ll tell you a secret, all the best people are’ – Mad Hatter.

Children in the early years thrive off imagining their own ideas of the world coupled with the facts and knowledge they have learnt. Having worked in Reception for a number of years, my best activities and ideas have come from the children’s own imagination.

Imagination is the idea that the child can be anyone and achieve anything! If they want to become an astronaut, we as the enablers of this experience support them with related books, creating plans for spaceships and rockets, developing costume ideas and going on the journey to space with them. Children want to play and engage in these ‘out of this world’ experiences but need support to be able to develop their ideas and learn through this. When becoming an astronaut, it would be a great learning point for learning about the planets, creating alien stories, writing lists of what to take etc. In my career, I have seen adults who have stopped the child being imaginative or brushed off their idea for ‘being too silly’. To this I apologise to all of those children personally as their world was essentially crushed at that point.

Working in the early years is the most wonderful places where you can walk past a group of children being giants, to another singing at their own concert and another fighting off the dinosaurs. Engaging in these scenarios should be exciting and teaching points where the children start off by teaching the adults, and then you impart your knowledge. Many times, imaginative play is crushed by the children being taught what is right and wrong instantly, to this I say no. Allow the children to immerse you into their play, ask them questions about what is happening, how you can support their play and then take time to observe and understand what they do not know or any misconceptions. Through this, you can impart knowledge that will be useful to their learning and play rather than intrusive and demotivating.

Setting up space for the children to have these experiences and imaginative plays is vital to enabling the environment to support their learning. Set up areas that are full of interesting objects, old keys, and dinosaur footprints, broken spaceships which allow them to discuss and develop their ideas. This is a way to teach imagination that they may not have otherwise thought of without it being boring. By having these pockets of scenarios in the environment, the children are focused on the ideas that you may want to teach them, but also to bring to life their ideas they may have mentioned previously.

One of the best examples of imagination in my classroom has been a Fieldwork Education model that we complete for the International Early Years Curriculum of ‘To the Rescue!’ which is about superheroes and people who help us. The children always love being superheroes and engaging in imaginative role play surrounding this. However, for this module we asked other members of staff to get involved and support our learning. The children instantly became police officers writing down the evidence of icing sugar footprints in the classroom when Mrs’ S’s sausages we were looking after went missing. They absolutely loved using the magnifying glasses indoors and outdoors, and whilst my TA’s did not appreciate the noise, the discussion and ideas the children had were incredible. Then, Mr B came in and stole items from the classroom with the children present, and then returned to explain his evil twin brother did bad things. Again, the children flew into investigation mode creating wanted posters, which I scaffold, writing letters to the evil brother to return our items and being on the lookout when we moved around the school.

My most important piece of advice is that not to worry about the adults around you and care if they think you look utterly mad because what the children gain from those moments with you are priceless. Take your boring addition in maths as aliens trying to work out how many space biscuits they have altogether. Make your instructional recipe writing a recipe for the mud kitchen pies you will make at lunchtime. Make every bit of the day interesting for the children, but also for you. You want to teach and enjoy it, don’t teach in a dull way as you won’t love it either.

Being imaginative is simple, be as crazy and ridiculous as you like, enjoy it, and engage in that with the children to develop their ideas, have conversations and be part of their learning journey on that topic.

Creativity for Learners: Tips for Nurturing Creative Minds

Below are tips and suggestions for nurturing your learners' imagination and creativity:

  • Spend time outdoors. The benefits of nature for child development are endless. Because nature is ever changing, it provides countless opportunities for discovery, creativity, and problem solving. The natural world inspires children to think, question, make suppositions, and develop creative minds. Children can draw in sand, make designs with twigs, build forts with branches, or simply lie on the ground and look up at the sky

  • Invent scenarios. When your child invents a scenario, he tries on lots of different roles and organizes his thoughts while developing social and verbal skills. Encourage your child to play house, doctor, zoo, farm, space station, school, or store. Join in the imaginative play by taking on a role yourself. Play with stuffed toys or puppets (make simple puppets by putting your hand in a sock). Let your child lead your playtime together. If your child is into superheroes, think of the power your child might want as his own superpower feeling. Consider having your child create a new superhero!

  • Verbal activities. From rhymes to riddles, silly sounds to phonics, games such as "I Spy" or making up lyrics to common tunes, verbal interactive activities can inspire and nurture creative minds. Simultaneously, these activities build vocabulary and help your child learn phonics. These games are also the perfect and fun way to spend time in car rides.

  • Encourage art activities. Art is creative expression that nurtures imagination, not a lesson in following directions. Through painting, sculpture, collage, clay, drawing or any other medium, art is a way for children to work through emotions, make decisions, and express their ideas. Manipulating art materials provides a sense of freedom yet also 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.

  • Share literacy activities. Make reading time memorable and discuss other possible scenarios or endings for the story by using your child's imagination. Make up stories with your child, at times with her as the main character; other times propose moral dilemmas. Take turns making up a continuing story.

  • Ask open-ended and thought-provoking questions. Asking questions that provoke imaginative and creative thinking is an effective way to invite your child to express his ideas and share his visions, while giving him the message that his ideas are important. "What do you think would happen if….?" "What's the difference between a dog and a cat?" "What are some other ways to do this?"

  • Limit screen time (television, movies, computer, tablet, smart phone, handhelds, video games, etc.). Nurturing imagination and parenting in the digital age can be tough. Focusing on a screen is a passive way of learning for children. An alternative would be to encourage children to create something new and different. Engaging children in a kinaesthetic manner using their entire bodies and their five senses also opens the mind.

  • Remember to allow for down time. Unstructured, unscheduled time allows children opportunities to imagine and create.

Early childhood is the peak time to nurture children's imaginations. So if your child comes home and says, "...and then we drank purple milk that came from a purple cow," or something similar, offer encouragement for their creativity and imagination.

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