One of the wonderful things about working in a Junior School environment is the daily opportunity to witness the extraordinary imagination and creative minds of young children. This manifests itself in so many ways and with students of all ages. Whether it is in their play, their writing, their art and design work or just in their talk with each other, I never cease to be amazed at the complexity and diversity of thought and imagination that seemingly comes so naturally to children.

On Thursday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Year 4 showcase of their current PYP Unit of Inquiry into ‘How We Organise Ourselves’. To demonstrate their understandings of the central idea, ‘The design of buildings and structures is dependent upon environmental factors, human ingenuity and available materials’, students were asked to use their ingenuity to design and make a shelter that would suit a specified climate and then present their design-and-make to their peers, parents and staff. At first glance it could have appeared that every student had simply built a model shelter using a variety of different recycled materials, yet upon closer inspection, each model was clearly unique and incorporated a variety of features, many of which I thought I could immediately see what they were representing. How wrong could I have been! It was only when I engaged in discussion with each student individually that I really began to appreciate the completely new world that they had created and been entirely immersed in throughout the process. The level of thinking, detail and precision in every aspect of their design was astounding. The finished product I initially saw, as an external observer, and thought I had understood, was only a tiny fraction of the place they had created and were describing from within as if they were actually walking through it. Far from just a model, it was a real place in their imaginations and therefore rich in detail.

Imagination is an amazing capacity that young children generally engage with so readily and naturally. This, coupled with a strong sense of curiosity, defines in many respects the way in which a child sees the world and learns. Curiosity continually asks the questions that seek to understand and make sense of all that they encounter. At the same time imagination challenges the status quo, pushes the boundaries of what is possible, explores alternatives and seeks to discover and maximise potential. Children imagine possibilities that as adults we never even consider as we operate within constraints of our prior experiences, entrenched practical limitations and a conservative bent towards the conventional. 

Children do not just accept things for what they or set glass-ceilings for what is possible and this streams from them naturally, as they play, learn and encounter new experiences. They also notice things we no longer see as adults, things long since relegated to the wallpaper of life. George Bernard Shaw once said, 'We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.' Adult life is busy and demanding. It is refreshing when we take the opportunity to slow down, interact with children and gain glimpses into their world; one that we once inhabited too. This is probably what first drew me to teach and work with children, yet I need to remind myself constantly of this too as I go about my busy days. I would commend to you the benefits of stopping, putting aside the technology and actively engaging with your child in play, rich conversation and imaginative activity. Walt Disney claimed, 'Every child is born blessed with a vivid imagination. But just as a muscle grows flabby with disuse, so the bright imagination of a child pales in later years if he ceases to exercise it.' Imagination is a gift of childhood that we so often lose on the journey to adulthood without even realising. We need to ensure that we don’t fill our children’s lives with so much organised activity, technology and entertainment that we leave no space for imagination and this creative ‘muscle’ becomes prematurely flabby due to lack of exercise. Better still, we could commit to nurturing our own imagination and rebuild our own atrophied imaginative muscles alongside our child, reclaiming a small part of our own inner child.

Mark Yeowell | Head of Junior School