What is imagination? Why is imagination so important in education? How do you develop it in young scholars? These are questions I have been pondering. The research I have been doing to find the answers has been delightful, insightful and inspiring. I realized maybe for the first time that Charlotte Mason’s methods all have an over arching goal to them….to develop the child’s imagination.
What is Imagination?
Imagination: The ability of the mind to form pictures of things that are not present or real.It is the world inside of our minds. It is a place that we can see, hear, and smell things remembered, things invented. It is a place to put one idea together with another. It is where we create and invent. It is also a place to retreat to when the world around is unpleasant or cruel. Sara in the story the little princess survived the terrible shock of her father’s supposed death but imagining. Here is a portion of chapter eight In the Attic, when Ermengarde and Sara have just become friends after Sara troubles began. They are talking about Sara’s troubles of losing her father, her position in the school and becoming a maid now living in the attic.
“I don’t see any good in them,(the troubles)” said Ermengarde stoutly.What if little Sara could not have begun to imagine again? How dreary life might have become for her.
“Neither do I-to speak the truth,” admitted Sara frankly. “But, I suppose there might be good in things, even if we don’t see it. There might-doubtfully be good in Miss Minchin.”
Ermengarde looked around the attic with a rather fearsome curiosity.
“Sara,” she said. “do you think you can bear living here?”
Sara looked around also.
“If I pretend it’s different, I can,” she answered. “Or if I pretend it is a place in a story.”
She spoke slowly, her imagination was beginning to work for her, it had nor worked for her at all since her troubles had come upon her. She had felt as if it had been stunned.”
Why is imagination so important in education?
This is a much harder question for me to answer. Then I thought…what if we were made without the ability to imagine? No pictures would form in our minds when words were read from a page. Thus no books would have been written. We would know no stories. We would not be able connect ideas from one subject to another. We would not be able to understand math notations. How would we do math? History would be completely lost to us. And then further on outside of education, what if we could not imagine like little Sara did? We would not have a place to go to when troubles over come us. There would be no inventions. How would we know God since he is not visible? Or have faith in things unseen? We must conclude that we were designed to imagine. We were designed to believe in things we can not see. We were designed to put ideas together in our minds. It is part of being human. And if a child is a person as CM says then it is important that we cultivate this aspect of thier being. So.....
How do we develop imagination in our young scholars?
Just below is a rough, off the cuff list from my various readings trying to nail down practical ways I can be cultivating a healthy imagination in my three boys. I wanted to be aware also of the big and small ways I may be stunting their imagination, so there are two lists.
What cultivates imagination What stunts imagination
Living books too many toys
Solitude/free time television and DVD’s
Open ended questions a busy schedule
Asking questions busy work, ruts
Nature video games
Handicrafts dreaming about ones self
Games sermonizing a reading
Narration the teacher talking too much
Wondering aloud telling things that can be discovered
Encouraging thoughtful observation hurried lessons
Activities where the brain works passive work
Executing his own ideas following your ideas
Relying on his own minds giving answers instead of asking questions
Raw materials + time indifferent teachers
Looking outward looking inward
Painting pictures for the mind no inertia
Discovering of new ideas going over the same ground again
Providing a banquet of ideas rich and varied spoon fed doses of facts
Finding relationships between ideas unit studies
Having direct experience with something not requiring memorization
Giving him meaty ideas avoiding structure in learning
Mastering the grammar of everything
From these two lists, you may see what occurred to me, that CM’s methods, if used as she prescribes them, will no doubt lead to a well cultivated imagination. I also noticed something else, and that is that imagination is NOT exclusive of discipline or structure. Note the above points in the list: mastering the grammar of everything, not requiring memorization, avoiding structure in learning. In Anthony Esolen’s fascinating book Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
“If that seems merely absurd, you have never beheld the serpentine belt on a recently manufactured car—a belt that turns the fan, the alternator, the power steering, the water pump, and so forth. Goldberg's machines were wildly imaginative, really a gleeful celebration of the spirit of invention. In more recent times, Nick Park of Wallace and Gromit fame has revived that spirit, with Wallace sliding off his tilting bed into his trousers and through a trap door in the bedroom, down to the kitchen table below, where robot arms slap a shirt over his head and half a sweater on each arm. The Coyote in the old Road Runner cartoons was a failed Wallace, always purchasing some absurd heap of junk from the ever-present Acme Company—magnetized iron bird seed pellets, jet propelled roller skates—only to find the physics of the machine turn against him, causingSo it seems imagination is not a freeing or unfettering of ALL restraints to flit about at your own fancy. It is helped along as well by structures. Some structures that Mr. Esolen mentioned in were: memorization, learning the grammar of things, detail work, mastering something, hard work. Also structures like those Charlotte Mason advocated; Life is a discipline, habits, perfect execution, attention, obedience etc. also then lends to the cultivating of a strong and vibrant imagination.
projecting ledge of a cliff to fall on his head, or something similarly disconcerting. None of this playfulness is possible without a deep sense of structure—without a skeleton upon which to hang one's welter of experience.”
“Structure: “grammar” that orders every part in its appropriate place—is important not only for the physical sciences, but for every kind of intellectual endeavor. It allows us to do more than weave a fancy from the bits and pieces of our private experience. We can, by the power of structure, weave a whole artistic universe.” -Anthony Esolen Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child
In our homeschool we have some good things in place, but this study tells me there is much more to be learned. I haven't yet completed Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, but I certainly will. It is fascinating to learn more about this wonderful tool for education.