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Monday, December 12, 2011

Are you creative enough to foster imagination in your child?

As we discussed in the earlier blog, imagination ( not fantasy) is useful for developing 'creativity'. Creativity is 'reconfiguring' the existing combination of elements in the 'real world' in a new form that did not exist till then. Creativity in music, for instance, is 'reconfiguring' the same seven notes of music ( and the silence between the notes) in a uniquely different way. It is not creating the eighth note, so to say.

A child seems to respect the 'real' world intuitively. For instance, if you ask your child to draw an elephant, he will always draw elephant in 'black'. If you try to tell him to draw it in 'orange', he will listen to you, only if he has not seen a 'real' elephant. If you tell your child to draw a tree, he will always paint the leaf of a tree with 'green' color.  Although 'drawing' can be done only by 'imagining', the child refuses to draw something 'unreal', unless we provoke him.

Why is it important to keep the distinction of real and unreal for a child below the age of 6? Because the child's mind is a absorbent mind till the age of 6. Till this age, therefore, the child 'takes in' everything indiscriminately. When the mind is 'absorbent', it soaks in whatever it receives without any filter, like a camera. Child's absorption is so powerful that he can recollect the long list of numbers and objects, without understanding them.Because of the child's ability to 'recollect' and 'repeat' whatever he sees or hears, we often confuse this 'absorbent mind' with 'intelligent mind'.

Because of his powerful absorbent mind, a child can readily 'absorb' stories of unreal people like Superman or fairy tales. Once he absorbs them, his equally powerful  mind starts using them 'unknowingly'. For instance, a child fed with these comic book stories will be seen running from one place to another, telling you that he is 'flying like superman'. Or tell stories to their children about going to a 'planet', fighting 'demons' and so on. Their mind becomes fully occupied with 'ideas' that are based on unreal world.This reduces the child's engagement with the 'real' world and 'real' work, which is not a helpful habit.

Such deviant behaviour is observed in a child who is admitted to a Montessori pre-school, after he has attended a play school for 6 months. Such children find it 'so difficult' to undo their habits ( and do the real work in Montessori), that they often go back to play schools. These children get sucked in the fantasy world and have difficult time in correcting themselves later!

On the other hand, if this power of absorbent mind is used with the elements of 'real' world, it can 'establish' habits and patterns that can help the child develop his imagination. As Dr Montessori mentions ( in her book The Absorbent Mind), adults require special kind of sensitivity to create an environment for the child that will help the child to foster his imagination by using the elements of 'real world'.

Here are some examples to guide your creativity in helping create events that will help your child imagine and not fantasise. Remember imagination uses elements of 'real world' ( as contrast to fantasy which uses elements of 'unreal world':

1. A child can only understand 'concretes'. Help him use his 'imagination' to understand the 'concept'.

For instance, a child understands the distance of 1 meter, because he can see it 'concretely'. But he has to use 'imagination' to 'understand' the distance of 10 Kms, because one can never 'see' 10 kms. How will you help him 'imagine' 10 kms?

Or a child cannot see the physical property of 'long' or 'heavy', because it is a concept. A pen can be long, a ruler can be long, or a car can be long. How do you 'isolate' the physical property of 'length' from these three different objects by using his 'imagination'? How will you do it? Hint: Montessori method uses different materials to help the child 'understand' these physical properties. Ask your Montessori teacher for more ideas.

2. The child cannot understand the concept of 'time'.

Yesterday, today and tomorrow are concepts for a child to comprehend. That is why, he cannot understand that he has to 'wake up at 7 am to go to school at  8 am'. How will you help the child to imagine 'time'? Hint: Buy a calender for him and 'make' him 'paste' events on the date, and see it 'later'. Ask your Montessori teacher for more ideas.

3. Use 'real' world mysteries of life to provoke child's imagination. 'Biology' mysteries are most suitable at this age, because the child can 'discover' the mystery himself by using his 'eyes'.

For instance, tell him how chicks come out of 'eggs', while puppies come out of the 'stomach' of a dog? Or how some plants can be seeded with 'seeds', and how some can be seeded with 'stems'? Or how the same 'water' can exist in three forms : solid, liquid and vapour? Or the air is full of 'gases' which we cannot see? Hint: Ask your Montessori teacher for more ideas.


Imagination is a powerful tool to help the child become creative. But if the child has to use this tool, we have to become creative in designing an environment that will help our child use imagination. Are we creative enough? 


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