Posts tagged ‘creativity’

July 23, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

mud_girl

There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.

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According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.

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Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

May 10, 2013

What is the Role of Art in Science Education?

by Melissa Harding

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“The difference between science and the arts is not that they are different sides of the same coin… or even different parts of the same continuum, but rather, they are manifestations of the same thing. The arts and sciences are avatars of human creativity.”
– Mae Jemison; doctor, dancer and first African American woman in space

What inspires people to choose a science-based career? What inspires those scientists to make great discoveries and innovations in their fields? There is a growing body of research that suggests that creativity may be the answer. Creative thought is crucial to innovation; moments of insight require creativity to create bridges between ideas and make clear links that were hidden to the thinker.  In a series of discussions with scientists at the Eurpoean Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), an international research institute in Geneva, Switzerland, researchers found that the institute’s many scientific leaders ascribed three qualities to the making of a good scientist: rigorous intellect, the ability to get the job done and the ability to have creative ideas. They all emphasized the synthetic nature of creativity – it brings together previously unrelated thoughts to create something new and exciting. To quote one respondent: “Creative scientists have the ability to step back from what’s happening in the lab and look at the big picture and put things in perspective”. They are also unafraid of tackling something new, while still having the humility to understand how little they know.

If creativity is so important for the creation of good scientists, then it only makes sense to nurture this trait in students. One way to do this is through multidisciplinary education, combining art with science. As has been shown through teaching science and literacy together, merging two separate subjects can have big results. In 2008, the DANA Arts and Cognition Consortium, a philanthropic organization that supports brain research, assembled scientists from seven different universities to study whether the arts affect other areas of learning. Several studies from the report correlated training in the arts with improvements in math and reading scores, while others showed that arts boost attention, cognition, working memory, and reading fluency (Source). Need more proof? A recent study found that Nobel Laureates are more likely to pursue artistic hobbies and endeavors than the average scientist. A separate review found that, out of twenty featured scientists, those who engaged in artistic past-times tended to publish high-impact, highly cited research. Even Scientific American is touting the change from STEM to STEAM. Clearly, art is important in science education.

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In fact, art is not so different from science – at least in practice. Both art and science are driven by the need to interpret the human experience, whether by painting a flower or dissecting it to understand its inner mechanisms. Additionally, both art and science require good observation and deduction skills. To quote Albert Einstein, “The greatest scientists are artists as well.” He believed that his innovations came from creative intuition, just like those of an artist. Art is also a way to inspire curiosity and wonder. Some students may not be initially interested in science, but can be lead to methods of scientific thinking through art projects that directly relate to science topics.

One reason that this approach is so effective in engaging students is that it addresses the whole child. Children are naturally creative and artistic; they are good at finding new solutions and thinking outside the box. Bolstering students’ creativity by default also increases their critical thinking skills, problem solving abilities and collaborative spirits. Children like art and find the free expression of painting, sculpting and drawing to be fun and liberating. By pairing this natural love of art with science, you are truly creating an engaged and excited child. At Phipps, we try to combine science concepts with photography, art and the sensory experience of horticulture to get students curious and connected to the natural world. While some students that come through our doors are plant lovers, many more come for the art and stay for the science. Art also helps children to feel emotionally connected to the world around them, which research also shows is what creates future naturalists.

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However, the arts are also worthwhile for their own sake. Without both artists and scientists, the world would be a very dull place indeed. The way that art interprets the world is very different from science, but equally relevant to the human experience. We still need a future generation of musicians, artists and photographers. The same curiosity and drive that make a person a scientist also make a person an artist; both scientists and artists have the skills needed to become successful adults.

An easy way to encourage artistic expression is by spending time outside, which naturally promotes both art and science together. Not only is the natural world rich in beauty, but it is also rich in complexity; both are interesting lenses with which to see the world.  Additionally, try integrating some of these practices into your play and family time: dance, photography, poetry writing, creative writing, nature journaling, music playing and appreciation, painting, drawing, sculpting, gardening, and nature crafts. Making up dances together as a family, taking photos on a hike or planning a colorful garden are all easy ways to engage your child in both art and science.  These activities also engage your child in the natural world, creating a life-long connection that will serve him well emotionally and intellectually for years to come.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

February 22, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding

mud_girl

There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.

DSC_0004

According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.

DSC_0221

Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

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