Imagination: The Forgotten 21st Century Skill?
- Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5
The world changes every day. There is always something new. New technology that we instantly wonder how we ever lived without, video games and 3-D movies that are hyper-realistic, and toys that let kids simulate everything from cooking on the grill to vacuuming.
These things are awesome and I love them all (except maybe for the noise that the play vacuum makes . . . I could live without that and still feel I lead a fulfilled life), but what they are slowly stealing from us is our sense of imagination. I am not the first (and I won’t be the last) to talk about this issue, but instead of just stating the problem, I want to offer a solution.
Antoinette Portis wrote a book called Not a Box and, in my humble opinion, it’s a must-have for every classroom. I was once asked what I thought the quintessential read-aloud book for kindergarten would be and (after I looked up the word quintessential to make sure I had the definition correct . . . and I did) I easily chose Not a Box.
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This book is one of the first that I read to my class every year, and one that we revisit several times. The message is clear: use your imagination. The main character, a cleverly drawn rabbit, has a box. An off-page adult asks the rabbit why he’s standing on, beside, and in the box. The rabbit always responds, “It’s not a box.” The words and illustrations are both very simple but they serve as a powerful reminder that during the course of my day I have to allow time for my students to develop their imaginations. I keep this reminder at the front of my room all year.
To help inspire students to use their imagination there are four things that I do:
While the students are working on different projects or learning in our centers, I introduce situations where the solutions aren’t immediately evident by asking¸ “What if . . .?” or “How could . . .?”. These questions help take play to an imaginative level.
When we have an extra five minutes before lunch or some other transition, I will call out an item such as the playground slide and we brainstorm different things it could be. My favorite answer so far is they could lay at the top and the slide could be Rapunzel’s hair.
I give them time and space. I supervise, but I also encourage independence. I’ve found that when students are given time for physical activity that isn’t structured by the teacher, they will find a way to structure it on their own. This is when they can let their imagination take over. Four students and a patch of grass becomes good guys/bad guys, Power Rangers, or a choir that sings our calendar songs in a concert.
Finally, I read other books that talk about imagination such as:
I’m Bored by Michael Ian Black
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Stella: Star of the Sea by Marie-Louise Gay
Alice the Fairy by David Shannon
Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis
It is so easy, especially during the second half of the year, to lose sight of the fact that our students are still children. The end of the year seems so far away to our students (and many of their parents), but every teacher knows that it will be here before we know it. Teachers will soon be judged by what we have taught our students and because of that many will say that there isn’t enough time for “play” in school. I understand that point of view and I feel those pressures too, but when I look at those 21st century skills and how one of the three big areas is critical and creative thinking, I feel like I would doing a disservice by not making time for building imagination.
I know that you have some other book titles that are perfect for spurring along those budding imaginations. I hope that you will take just a moment and share them with so I can increase my imagination library.
I can’t wait to see you next week.