Imagination is essential in the learning process and can advance cognitive development. Young children often learn about historical events, different cultures or people that they will never meet, and imaginative play is a way for them to discover the world that surrounds them and to collect experiences.
According to Sir Ken Robinson (an expert in learning and children’s education), “imagination is the source of all human achievement”, thus one of the key components of creativity and innovation. Learning can be shallow or deep. It can skim the surface of many things or it can engage deeply with a few ideas. Inquiry-based approaches aim to encourage deep learning—learning where children are absorbed and fascinated; learning where children are active and involved; and learning where children make connections and develop significant understandings.
Sometimes, in responding to children’s interests, ideas and questions, you just don’t know where you are going to end up. From an initial idea, learning can travel in so many directions, gathering its own momentum as it goes. Through imaginary games and storytelling children are more likely to adapt learning habits, develop their communication
skills and improve their vocabulary. By using their senses and bodies, they can move around and develop their muscles as well as the neurological connections in their brains. Creativity and problem solving are among the basic skills that everyone is required to have, but to think outside the box and come up with innovative ideas, we need to use our imagination and see things beyond reality. Inquiry is one of our most basic activities as human beings, beginning with babies who use it to make sense of the world around them. Active involvement in learning builds children’s understandings of concepts and the creative thinking and inquiry processes that are necessary for lifelong learning.
Consider how you ask questions. Do you tend to use the same ones? Here are some alternatives and easy techniques to try that will provoke thinking and deeper learning.
- Invite children to elaborate. “Can you say a little more?” “I’m not certain I know what you mean”
- Speculate about the ideas and subject being discussed. “I wonder what might happen if…”
- Make a suggestion. “You could try…”
- Reflect on the topic. “So what are we thinking…?” “Next time we might…”
- Offer extra information. “I think I might try…”. “It might be useful to know that…”
- Reinforce useful suggestions. “I especially liked…”. “That idea was…”
- Clarify ideas. “We can tell this works because…”
- Correct me if I’m wrong. “So perhaps we all believe…”. “Oh, I thought we agreed that…”
- Echo comments/summarise. “Oh, Joe seems to be saying…”. “So you think…”
- Offer non-verbal interventions. Eye contact, a nod or raised eyebrows to encourage extended responses, to challenge or even to express surprise.