Immeasurable imaginations: learning through play

I often read children’s books so that I never lose my childlike imagination, that fertile ground from which robust flora blooms. Witnessing a child’s cognitive development is, personally, one of the most fascinating processes I can think of. Armed with endearing naivety they are boundless in their ignorance of convention.

Image by Enrique Meseguer

Curiosity, courage, confidence, and observation are natural traits in children, but rather than encourage such treasures of youth, society tames them in the interest of behaviour management. Curiouser and curiouser,” uttered by the adventurous Alice, penned by author Lewis Carroll. How strange is our desire to suppress our vivid imagination in exchange for social conformity. It is but a paradox to possess the wisdom of adulthood and envy the immeasurable imagination of childhood.

Cultivating imagination

To imagine new possibilities, one must first learn conventions and later challenge them. We must proactively seek out knowledge in order to gain it; it cannot happen passively.

Our cognitive development depends on how deliberately and specifically we work on tasks. In his book Build a Better Brain, Peter Hollins emphasised that “Synaptic connections get created through challenge and exertion.” Therefore, convenience and complacency will hinder the development of one’s prefrontal cortex, the gateway to creativity.

Neuroscience has identified that regions of the human brain are responsible for specific purposes. The brain can experience physical change when we acquire new information, create memories, or interaction with other people. Our brain’s ability to adapt and create connections determines how efficiently it functions. This adaptation and growth is neuroplasticity, “the ability of the brain to change itself in response to the stimuli it encounters,” as Hollins explains.

The four principles that will improve neuroplasticity are: stimulation, an enriching environment, methodical, persistent, and repetitive approaches, and brain care.

Hollins writes that “stimulation, action, activity, and motion – all in a repetitive manner – are the backbone of neuroplasticity.” Essentially, one deepens the neural grooves in their brain each time you review new information. More stimulation leads to an increase in neural connections, which leads to faster thinking and further connections between unrelated information. Neuroplasticity occurs through intentional engagement; deliberate play is a fine example.

Creativity and play

In academic literature, imagination can be viewed as fanciful with reasoning and factual knowledge being the more accepted approaches to pedagogy. Academia is beginning to embrace the power of play in cognition.

In her report Imagination, Creativity and Play in the Curriculum, Ong documents the numerous benefits of play in the curriculum. Play fosters the associations and connections which lead to divergent thinking, along with the transformative ability and insight gained by combining ideas and manipulating symbols and representations.

“Play allows the expression of thoughts, emotions and allows the child to develop the cognitive structures and schema to assimilate, integrate and modulate memories and both positive and negative affective themes.” – Patricia A. L. Ong

Making time in my life to play, be it through music, writing, inventing characters, or imagining fictitious worlds with children are all neurologically beneficial pastimes.

Character development

In our quest for self-improvement, we can often become overanalytical and lose touch with our inner child. Perhaps the answer to unlocking creative blocks lies in keeping our fearless, imaginative inner child ever-present.

We can learn much from the voices of children’s literature. The whimsical characters from Wonderland leap from the page and speak to me to this day. Writer, Charles L. Dodgson was not only able to imagine new worlds and develop characters, he even reinvented himself. Following some success with published works in magazines, it was ultimately his pen name Lewis Carroll, which gained him a wider readership.

Be sure the safest rule is that we should not dare to live in any scene in which we dare not die. But, once realise what the true object is in life — that it is not pleasure, not knowledge, not even fame itself, ‘that last infirmity of noble minds’ — but that it is the development of character, the rising to a higher, nobler, purer standard, the building-up of the perfect Man — and then, so long as we feel that this is going on, and will (we trust) go on for evermore, death has for us no terror; it is not a shadow, but a light; not an end, but a beginning!”

– Lewis Carroll

If we value education as a society, it is hard to look past the value of imaginative play and creativity. We should aim to create enriching environments to stimulate our minds and encourage neuroplasticity for the benefit of not only self-improvement, but also the greater society.

[First published on The Serenade Files 28 August, 2020.]

One thought

  1. I love children’s books. In high school to the end of college- I fell in love with some children’s books. I was born with a wild imagination- I did tell stories during the elementary school years, but never once wrote them done.

    Things have changed since then- I now am writing a middle grade fantasy. Sparkle, our main character, is deeply compassionate, clever, courageous, adventurous, rebellious, and stubborn. The compassionate and clever part of Sparkle is a born Fairy Frog characteristic. Like all Fairy Frogs, naturally gifted in the arts: her main craft is drawing.

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