STORY Matthew Brauer and Gloria West, Cairns Catholic Education

Many factors influence a child’s overall development, all of which can be classified into five dimensions – social, emotional, physical, cognitive and spiritual.

As each child is unique, the impact of each of these factors is varied. Here are a few things for parents to remember when considering their child’s development:
•• Children will develop and refine each of the above dimensions at different rates and to different depths.
•• The list of factors that influence the development of these are extensive, ranging from environmental variables to genetic predispositions.
•• A child’s development is complex and unique and the role of nurturing that development is a challenging and adaptive process.

The Importance of Imagination

According to lead educational researcher, Dr Michael Fullan, creativity has been deemed one of the most significant contributing factors to job success and life-long learning. Fullan’s latest research and publication, New Pedagogies for Deep Learning, classifies the key skills required for children to flourish in today’s complex society into six distinct competencies: creativity, critical thinking, citizenship, character, collaboration and communication.

Specifically developing creativity in all children:

•• Fuels their ability to innovate, problem-solve, pose questions, find solutions and explore new and unfamiliar areas.
•• Allows them to learn how to adapt to the ever-changing world.
•• Provides a platform for reasoning and critical evaluation of different solutions.

The When and How of Nurturing Creativity

The benefits of creative thinking are clear and substantial, however the ‘how’ is often unknown.

Studies reveal that the development of creativity is most rapid between three and eight years of age. Although there is no substantial evidence to support why this may be the case. It can be inferred that fostering conventional thinking skills that focus on one linear idea are often prioritised after this point in time. In other words, before the age of eight, children are encouraged to think outside the box, which stimulates, you guessed it, creativity!

So what can you do at home to help your child release their inner imagination?

1. Let them learn
Values and morals shape our thoughts and actions.
As a child forms and develops their own values and morals at home, it is important that these emphasise self-expression over conventional success. Model the right behaviour, yes, but give them the tools that allow them to express themselves too.
Children need opportunities to be self-expressive and to build originality. Self-expression is a skill which has been closely linked to intellectual risk taking, a powerful factor in developing higher-order cognition and academic success in later life.

2. Encourage questions
Parents can also promote inquiry and investigative learning by asking their children about what they are doing and answering any questions they may have along the way. These processes involve the learner actively questioning, exploring, problem-solving and evaluating. This can be harnessed through posing simple open-ended questions or setting explorative tasks. Gentle support can be provided, whilst rigid structure and direct instruction is not required.

3. Allow room for error (and mess!)
Through learning, mistakes arise. This is an integral part of the learning process as children critically reflect upon these errors and devise solutions. This stimulates creative thinking. Therefore, to nurture this in the home environment, mistakes should be perceived as a necessary part of the learning journey, not a shameful act. The emphasis should not be placed on the fact a mistake has occurred, but rather the reflective action of evaluating the mistake and seeking a solution.

4. Inspire play
Play is a key element when it comes to creative thinking. It provides opportunities for children to discover, create, improvise, and imagine as they form social groups, test out ideas, challenge each other’s thinking, and build new understandings. Combine this with the ability to look at things from an alternate perspective, and you have everything you need. Children explore the world around them through play.


5. Use open ended resources
Children are naturally curious and using open-ended resources can provide your children with the stimulus to develop their imagination. Open-ended play sets no limitations; children can go where their creativity takes them. There is no right or wrong with open-ended play.
An open-ended resource is any item that can be used in a range of ways. Some ideas you can find around the house or backyard include:

••Wooden blocks
••A range of fabrics
••A lump of clay
••Milk crates
••Shells, leaves and pinecones
••Paper of all shapes, sizes and colours
••Sand, pebbles and stones
••Cardboard boxes, empty toilet paper rolls

6. Pretend with them
When children are at a young age, their parents are often their best friends and the people they prefer to play with. While individual play is critical for creative thinking, it’s also important to interact with your child, to encourage this creativity and to support their imaginative play.

Here are a few ideas to bring to the play table:

•• Make a city out of wooden blocks or LEGO®. Include features such as buildings, roads and bridges.
••Set up a café or restaurant using pretend food. Help your child write a menu and use pots, pans and kitchen utensils to cook up a feast.
•• Make animals out of items found around the house, such as paper bag puppets, toilet roll jungle characters or rock critters.
•• Collect items from the park or beach and make a nature collage using your child’s special finds.
•• Encourage your child to draw different pictures to staple together into a book. Add text to each drawing or help your child write the text on each page.

The world in which we live is ever-changing. Therefore how we nurture the development of today’s youth to prepare them for life must reflect this. The development of a child is a complex and unique process as success for one may not look the same for another. Therefore,  celebrating and empowering this uniqueness is important. Through encouragement of self-expression and creativity a child not only builds skills essential for problem solving but an appreciation for their own individual talents.


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