The art of imagination

Some time ago, I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook page that read – When the niece was 2-3 years old, she would announce the most ambitious drawings: “I’m making a cow flying over our house and all the dogs are barking at it from the car park.” I’d wonder how on earth she’d draw that and then miraculously she would – she wasn’t going for perfection or considering the impossibility of the task, she just simply drew whatever she wanted. I learnt a life lesson from that. Then yesterday for homework, the niece (now 7) was asked to draw top angle of three objects. I suggested she draw one of the sleeping dogs. “How will I draw that, its too difficult,” she said. And my heart broke just a little.

Doesn’t this story hit home for many of us? Young children first make their way through the world with wonderment, and then with resignation and, even worse, cynicism. They start out fearless and full of creativity and imagination, and are stifled by systems that do not value these.

In his book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Jonah Lehrer quotes a survey that said – If you pose the question, “do you think you’re creative?”, to a group of second-graders, about 95 percent of them will answer “Yes.” Three years later, when the kids are in fifth grade, that proportion will drop to 50 percent—and by the time they’re seniors in high school, it’s down to 5 percent.

At Elements, our manifesto is:

  • To provide our students with a safe, dynamic and diverse nature-based learning environment.
  • To encourage creativity, curiosity, critical thinking and imagination.
  • To help each child develop a bond with themselves and the world around them

Here’s a little story that illustrates this:

A couple of weeks ago, during unstructured outdoor play, two of our students were piling dirt on stumps. Their creations looked almost identical but when we asked each of them what they made, the answers were so different. One was making a chocolate cake and the other, railroad tracks.

A 2012 study by Adobe on creativity showed that 8 in 10 people felt that unlocking creativity is critical to economic growth and nearly two-thirds of respondents felt creativity is valuable to society. Yet, only 1 in 4 people believe they are living up to their own creative potential.

This is a statistic that makes us both sad and hopeful. We’re doing everything we can to change these numbers, one dirt pile at a time.


Hello, there!


Education is what remains
after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.

Albert Einstein







What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.
Alfred Mercier





What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge,
and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

George Bernard Shaw





Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.
Margaret Mead

Learning at Elements:The First Step


Like most of my generation, I grew up close to nature and I know now that my childhood memories are a luxury. Remember when kids came home when the streetlights came on, having spent the evening playing outdoors with friends? We played hopscotch and tag.
We made up games and stories as we discovered the world outside our homes. We did not have toys designed to develop skills or abilities but we never lacked those attributes. Because they lie within each child, waiting to be awakened.

As a mother raising a child in New York, I know that I want to give my child the opportunity to learn, play and explore. So when we started thinking about what we wanted for Elements – an urban nature pre-school – our first goal was to create the experience of being in a forest or wooded area in a backyard of 3500 sq feet in the heart of a city.

We wanted children to be able to touch the soil, play with water, sit under trees and help grow produce. We wanted stations for art, and enough space for both dramatic play and unstructured play. Luckily, we found a team who believed in that vision, who helped
create this space. And then we crafted a curriculum that allows a child to explore, experience and discover.

Every child has talents and every child learns in its own way. At Elements, we believe that given the right environment, space and support, every child can awaken its special genius.

We celebrate each student for being herself and himself. They are given the information and tools they need, and then encouraged to think and imagine. The outdoors provides a diverse, versatile environment for this, as against classrooms, which are very structured in nature.

For instance, if our students are to learn about worms, one way to do it would be to use teaching aids and maybe bring one worm into the classroom in a jar and pass it around. Here’s how we chose to approach it. A discussion about worms was started in the classroom, and the kids were encouraged to share their thoughts and ask questions. Then, everyone put on their raincoats and boots and headed out into the garden, when it was raining. The kids loved digging around, trying to find worms and they could see that the rain brought the worms out. The sense of excitement as they searched and joy as they found worms could never be recreated in a classroom.

Experiential learning helps building curious, imaginative and creative minds that actively think and not just follow.

More about this next week, in our next post about Learning at Elements.

Thank you for reading!


Cooking with Kids: Zucchini Pizza

This past week, we plucked fresh basil from our organic garden and decided to make Zucchini Pizzas for lunch.

We used this recipe for inspiration, but changed it to make it easier for the kids.

So instead of boats, we had the kids slice the zucchini to make thick rounds. They also decorated their own ‘pizzas’ with sauce, cheese and basil. You can use shredded or fresh mozzarella. Once the kids are done, an adult will need to place the pan under the grill, and cook until the cheese melts.

It was a delicious lunch!


Try this at home: Lava Experiment

Our students enjoyed watching a lava experiment this past week, and we thought you might like to try this at home.

You will need:
a clean 1-liter clear soda bottle
3/4 cup of water
vegetable oil
fizzing tablets (such as Alka Seltzer)
food coloring (we chose red, but you can pick any colour you like)

What to do:
Pour the water into the bottle.
Use a measuring cup or funnel to slowly pour the vegetable oil into the bottle until it’s almost full. You may have to wait a few minutes for the oil and water to separate.
Add 10 drops of food coloring to the bottle. The drops will pass through the oil and then mix with the water below.
Break a seltzer tablet in half and drop one half into the bottle. Watch it sink to the bottom and let the blobby greatness begin.
To keep the effect going, just add another tablet piece.
For a true lava lamp effect, shine a flashlight through the bottom of the bottle.