How to Create an Environment that Nurtures Imagination in an Approach Blending SEL with PBL

Updated: May 7

Imagination is a mental space where we can explore possibilities, examine new perspectives, and find ways to elevate our reactions to feelings and behaviors. We need to create a safe environment from early childhood on, for imaginative play with ideas. That way as youth and adults, our kids will have a built-in personal safe space. Being able to examine their own and others' feelings and behaviors before reacting will make them empathetic, communicative and collaborative people. The ability to visualize diverse future products and action plans will make them creative and innovative professionals.

What do we do when we open the door to the kids' room and discover they are inventing a language or improvising music as a band?

Some parents might say: 'What are you doing?'. They might be embarrassed. But why?

The fact that the kids closed the door is a sign they were afraid of the adult's reaction.

We want to be parents or teachers that enable this imaginative space. Even encourage it.

Therefore we need to decide that our eyes can see and our ears can hear anything. Best reaction is a non-reaction. There is no need to smile. Kids know we cannot smile a lot, like they do. We have chores. A raised eyebrow would end their game, and make them decide never to be inventive for life. We just need to be OK with their play and let them continue. We can always say later: 'That was fascinating what you did. Tell me more about it'.

We need to establish that we like imagination that brings about ideas. They are only out of the question if they might hurt someone physically or emotionally. Making fun of what someone is saying or doing is just not funny. Funny is something that inspires us with kindness and positive possibilities.

What we want is for imagination to be expressed. We want kids to share what is in their free mental inventive space with us. The routes from abstract imagination into words are conversations, and drawing and doodling, totally free at first. We need to be careful not to restrict their imagination at the process. Listen and encourage. And provide rich language that expresses best what they are trying to communicate.

How to nurture imagination inspired by the 5 E's method:

Explore - Share a reading of a story, watch art together, etc. Enrich and light up curiosity about the world.

Experience - Say: 'Now let's imagine'. Converse about the new information. This is not a mere analytical discussion. Welcome expressions of insights, emotions, and stories that show how the kids relate the new information to their life experiences. Invite creative coloring and free drawing. Use surprising prompts that are relevant to the children's age.

Examine what the kids expressed. Listen first. A good idea is to use a puppet - she will be the one listening. Hold it at the child's eye level when you listen. Provide the kids with sentence starters like: 'The problem was'...'I found it interesting that'...'I felt that'...'The other's feelings or reactions made me feel'....'What could help is'...'It made me imagine'...

Elevate - Recommend how to better express using new words, inventing a game or a song, freely drawing.

Express - Invite the kids to express their elevated product of the mind: Show their game, or present a speech of one sentence. Tell the other kids or adults in the room that being an audience is participatory. Thanking and showing appreciation are highly acclaimed ways of taking part in a community that is productive. It's like going to a concert. At the end we applaud. That is our way to take part in the creation by the artist. We need that as much as he/she does. Your role is to show how much you enjoy the kid expressing and the others responding.

Note that jealousy can hinder such a process. Never be angry or happy with one kid. Always remember that other eyes are watching, not saying anything. For example, when kids quarrel, listen and give constructive feedback to each. When there is something you want to praise, find a way to compliment the others for their contribution, too.

Check out our delightful Dream-Day story to ignite kids' imagination!

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Please like and share this article. Share a story in the comments about how such teaching has benefited your students. Serve as inspiration for others.

May creative imagination be your key to a communicative and caring environment,

Michelle Korenfeld

Raising Creative Thinkers

21st Century Project-Based and Social-Emotional Learning lesson plans, stimulating teacher training, teaching tools, and best children’s STEAM book