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.


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