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Imaginative Play: Cardboard Boxes and Wrapping Paper

Most parents have watched in amazement as a small child spends more time playing with the wrapping paper, ribbon and box than they do playing with the toy the paper and box enclosed.  Children love creative, imaginative play with normal household items.  This experience is wonderful for stimulating a child’s cognitive development; however Professor Howard Chudacoff, from Brown University, has stated: “the resourcefulness of children’s culture has eroded, as children have become less skilled at transforming everyday objects into playthings.”

The genius of play

Apocryphal stories of creative, innovative, individuals describe the interaction between relaxation and play as catalysts for extraordinary creations, insights and discoveries. Leonardo da Vinci, widely regarded as being one of the most extraordinary creators of all time, was creative across numerous fields.  Da Vinci is renowned for his doodling, mind-maps and divergent thought processes that connected disparate concepts, as evidenced in his remaining notebooks. Whether in artistic or engineering fields, his creations came from his vivid imagination. “The great Leonardo continued to play as a child throughout his adult life” is how Sigmund Freud later described him.

Michael Gelb, in his book “Discover Your Genius”, explores the lives of geniuses and identifies ways in which we can all learn from them.  He writes that Albert Einstein “…is the perfect guide to some of the least sophisticated powers we all have, the childlike sense of play, possibility, and humor that is the essence of his genius.”  As a child, Einstein loved to construct, making huge houses out of playing cards and building objects with wheels.  Howard Gardner called Einstein “the Perennial Child”.  On one occasion, Einstein imagined he was riding on a sunbeam out into the universe. He was surprised when, in his imagination, he returned to the same place from where he left.  This experience prompted him to think about the universe and Einstein’s famous Theory of Relativity emerged.

Our marvellous imaginations

Einstein described this creative process as “combinatory play” and identified how he used imagination and associative play as a stimulus for a second, more verbal stage of the creative process.  You may be familiar with Einstein’s quote about imagination, but within the context of considering the importance of imaginary play, it is worth considering the whole quote:  “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”

Archimedes conceived the concept of water displacement (later known as Archimedes’ Principle) while relaxing in his bath.  It was reported that he ran naked down the street, excitedly shouting “Eureka! Eureka!” following his discovery. When an individual is in a state of deep relaxation, Theta brainwaves generate insight and high levels of creativity by enabling access of the subconscious mind.

Imaginative Play: Cardboard Boxes and Wrapping Paper

See, sense and stretch – with household items

Laura Seargeant Richardson, principal designer at global innovation firm, frog design, and author, refers to play as “our greatest natural resource.” She highlights the need for children to be able to “manipulate, morph and move”; maintaining they should be provided with opportunities to deconstruct, think flexibly, be tolerant of change, play productively and think ‘with their hands’.  She emphasises the importance of children’s abilities to “see, sense and stretch” through thinking abstractly, systematically; observing and imagining; experiencing empathy and intrinsic motivation.  By experiencing what Richardson describes as the four foundational pillars of play: open environments, flexible tools, modifiable rules, and ‘superpowers’, children are able to explore creative opportunities while developing the physical and mental skills that will enable them to thrive, now and in the future.

Parents who encourage unstructured, imaginative play and provide opportunities for free play without time constraints facilitate the development of important thought processes that will have benefits for children in school and throughout life. Access to normal household items, such as: a cardboard box, sheet, broom, and chair, will provide children with opportunities to create special, imaginative constructions, e.g. sailing ship, castle, spacecraft, tent, house or alternatives.   Critical cognitive processes, in particular executive functions, such as planning, focus and problem-solving, required for academic success, are developed through such unstructured play.  Children who have opportunities to play grow up to be imaginative adults who are effective problem solvers, creators, innovators and inventors.

We all lead busy lives and children gain many skills from participation in extracurricular activities, but it is important to ensure there is sufficient time available for free, unstructured, imaginative play alone and in conjunction with other children. Growing minds need time to read, to play, to imagine and to dream.

© Michele Juratowitch

Michele Juratowitch is Director of Clearing Skies She was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to investigate the needs of gifted students and their families.  Michele is co-author of Make a Twist: Curriculum differentiation for gifted students and the research report, Releasing the brakes for high-ability students.  A Seminar for Parents of gifted children will be held in Brisbane on Sunday, 30th October. To register for the seminar: https://www.trybooking.com/MQGU

E:  michele@clearingskies.com.au

W: www.clearingskies.com.au

P:  3378 0888   M: 0438 744 994

This article was published in Issue 18 of our print magazine, October/November 2016.

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