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I've learned first-hand the power of purposely and intentionally inviting children's imaginations into our classrooms over my 10 years of teaching in the classroom, but this became especially true for me once I had completed my doctoral studies.
Before I designed my literacy program, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, I spent hours and hours and hours inside classrooms, simply observing children as they participated in lessons throughout the day. I kept a notebook with me, and each time I saw kids just light up, I wrote down what was happening in the classroom or in the lesson in that moment.
Each time I saw students become fully engaged, inspired, and fully immersed in that learning moment, I recorded it. And then, when I crafted my literacy program, I systematically implemented those elements into the program so that I knew, before it was even piloted, that it contained the elements that would not only fully engage students, but would make learning so much fun that they honestly had no idea that they were learning as much as they were.
It’s a powerful thing to have this much knowledge of teaching theory and background in education and to then be able to combine that with what I know to be the most important ingredient in what I see missing in too many educational resources today: that element of capturing and encouraging children’s imaginations.
So, let’s talk about 5 ways that I’ve learned really works to capture children’s imaginations, and why this works so well.
I think this is true for all of us to some degree, but we’ve heard the phrase “individualized learning” far too many times. There can be a somewhat negative connotation to that phrase because it can bring up feelings of inadequacy because we just don’t know how to do it effectively so much of the time, and it can feel overwhelming because again, it feels like a lot of work to intentionally invite students to individually express themselves.
However, the key to inviting the expression of individuality is to provide the parameters for it to naturally occur.
Here’s what I mean. Inside My Tricky Turkey’s Top-Secret Escape Plan, kids get to imagine and create an escape plan for their tricky turkey, who has his or her own unique skills and talents and abilities – which students get to imagine and choose for themselves.
Here’s the thing about imagination:
It gives kids permission to dream about what they might want for themselves.
The entire time that they’re imagining all of these cool skills and talents that their tricky turkeys might have, they’re imagining what it might be like to have those skills and abilities and talents themselves. It allows kids the opportunity to “try different identities on” as they work to figure out who THEY will be, unique and individual in this big world.
Another example of this is how we’re seeing how popular “Escape Rooms” have been popping up everywhere the past few years. Imagining placing yourself in an entirely different situation, placing yourself in another version of reality, is why we are so engaged in movies, why it’s escapism for us – and we can borrow some of that magic to use inside our classrooms.
Kids’ imaginations are also really inspired when imagination goes hand-in-hand with problem-solving, right? Asking kids to think outside the box, to “imagine” solutions to a problem like a turkey trying to escape on Thanksgiving, invites that playfulness and magic and creativity that can light kids up and that can be missing in many other problem-solving challenges.
Kids light up when you pose a problem that requires them to really think outside the box, when there isn’t an obvious or simple solution, when they can get silly and playful and creative.
So, when you ask kids to imagine what their little monster that they’ve created wants for Christmas, for example, they are invited to enter that realm of imagination that allows them to think more expansively and more creatively.
Finally, kids’ imaginations are truly inspired when they get to be helpers – especially when they get to be the helper to the hero. Any time you can give kids opportunities to be the one to help, you win.
When you give kids opportunities to be the helper – to be the one who is in charge of coming up with a plan to care for or take care of someone else, their imaginations are inspired.
So again, when we invite kids to come up with a plan, to be the one to help their little tricky turkey to escape on Thanksgiving Day, they light up, and their imagination is inspired to be the helper to the hero, their tricky turkey.
So just to recap, when you’re thinking about your lesson plans and you really want to help your kids feel more inspired and creative and imaginative, think about how you can infuse these five elements into your own teaching and lesson planning:
1. How can you provide more opportunities for your students to create something that is individual to them?
This is, again, where the expression “Individualized learning” came from that sometimes has a bad reputation, but at the heart of it, people do support what they create. So I encourage you to think about ways that you might give students more opportunities for choice and individual expression – basically, giving kids a reason to care in your lessons and in units and to help infuse more imagination into learning.
2. How can you invite more opportunities for meaningful and compassionate problem-solving for your students? In other words, what kind of problems could you invite your students to imagine solutions for? That would encourage them to use their imaginations in creative and out-of-the-box ways?
3. Finally, how can you provide more opportunities for your students to imagine how they can be helpers to others? How can you provide opportunities for them to be the ones to take responsibility and be in charge? Inviting your students to be ones who are in charge, to be the ones to care for others, rather than being cared for, is a rare and powerful lesson in imagination for your students.
I'm curious - how do you infuse imagination into your classrooms? I'd love to hear your ideas! Please go ahead and comment below.
Until next week, remember: just because you're a beginning elementary teacher, there's no need for you to struggle like one.
P.S. I just created this very special freebie that I designed especially to help you start feeling more confident about your teaching. Grab your copy now by clicking the button below - it's what I used to help myself start believing more in my own teaching abilities, and I'm confident it will help you as well.
Dr. Lori Friesen | Beginning Teacher Mentor
Creator of the R.E.A.D.Y. for School Academy, Dr. Lori Friesen has mentored thousands of beginning teachers across the country through her workshops and courses. Host of the popular podcast, Beginning Teacher Talk, and creator of the innovative literacy program for 1st and 2nd grade, Dogs Help Kids Read and Succeed, Dr. Lori is dedicated to serving educators and inspiring learners. Learn more at drlorifriesen.com and at howdogshelpkids.com.
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