First, a chance happening that captures beautifully how I see creativity.

Michael (barely three) had just gone outside with me ‘to look at things’. Almost immediately two brightly hued, glossy leaves fell in front of us, and Michael pounced on them. Swiftly rearranging them to form a V in his hand, he turned to look at me triumphantly and said: ‘Flower!’ He had taken two things and created a third, something original, something of value. The very essence of creativity.

Happily my camera caught the moment—as I suspect Michael wanted.

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What sparks children’s imagination? What inspires their ideas? Can we discover what spurs their innovation and ingenuity? And what can we do to nourish and support their creative thinking?

My starting point for finding answers to these questions was to collect anecdotes about children’s imaginative thinking from what families could tell me, as well as from my own observations in children’s homes.

What triggers to the imagination could I find these children using? What if I shook my ‘tree of anecdotes’ to see what else might fall out? Could I detect common features worth sharing with others? I believe that I have, and this book is the result. It presents a distillation of many observations of children’s imaginative and creative thinking from infancy to ten years. I hope it reassures parents that by allowing ample time for imaginative play they are doing their best for their children. I hope it supports teachers who want to create imaginative learning environments in which they can share in children’s wonderment, as educator Cynthia à Beckett suggests, rather than being focussed on outcomes that limit possibilities for imaginative thinking.

My focus is on how children use visual language as a means of inquiry, as a playful way to imagine new possibilities and make their ideas visible, and I hope that the vignettes will help you to understand better what they do and make. As artist and Reggio Emilia educator Vea Vecchi remarks, what’s involved is a process of thinking simultaneously with ‘hands, sensibilities and brain’ with ‘the imagination as a unifying element’.

Part One relates anecdotes of children’s imaginative thinking in action and describes unexpected provocations that piqued children’s curiosity and spurred innovation.

Part Two reflects on what can be learnt from the anecdotes and looks at how you can nourish and support children’s creative endeavours.

Introducing Susan Whelan
Offering a parent’s perspective on some of the anecdotes is Susan Whelan, writer and mother of three, who shares my deep interest in children’s imagination and creative thinking. We trust that this book will inspire you to make your own discoveries about children and find out more about their passions and ideas. And perhaps unlock and rekindle the creativity in you.