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What’s Happening In The Brain When Your Imagination Is Active?

KQED News Mind/Shift – Staff Writer

“Imagination is often associated with childhood, but that doesn’t mean the process is simple. Conjuring images that one has never seen before is more complex than it seems, requiring the brain to reconfigure images it can readily identify in new ways. In one hypothesis of the imagination network, the prefrontal cortex plays a crucial function as coordinator, signaling different networks of neurons representing images that wouldn’t normally be associated together, to fire at the same time. Called “mental synthesis,” some researchers now believe the infrastructure for life-long imaginative pursuits may be laid during childhood.”(more)

In writing foundational skills more important than volume

News Herald – Juliann Talkington

Juliann

We would never expect a child to become proficient in algebra without a strong understanding of arithmetic, yet we expect kids to write well by osmosis.

For much of the 20th Century, elementary-school teachers taught the general rules of spelling, sentence structure, and basic paragraph writing. In secondary school, students focused on building paragraphs into essays. This regimented approach produced some excellent writers and many average writers.

In the 1970s, academics began experimenting with new strategies for teaching writing. A group of professors argued that making writing assignments less regimented and more creative and social would encourage students to write more. If the students wrote more they would become better writers. In other words, writing could be “caught” rather than “taught”.

The proponents of this method of writing instruction were persuasive. Gradually formal instruction in grammar, sentence structure, and essay writing took a back seat to creative expression. By the 1990s, most students were learning to write by this “caught not taught” approach.

Sadly, very few students learned how to write well. Universities and employers began complaining about the written communication abilities of high school graduates. Universities were forced to introduce remedial writing classes and employers began hiring English speakers educated overseas. Students expressed frustration with writing.

In the early 21st Century, a few K-12 schools reintroduced a structured approach to teaching writing with a creative twist. At one school, students begin writing instruction with phonics-based spelling. Then they learn how to write simple, creative, grammatically correct, properly spelled sentences. The following year they learn to construct slightly longer sentences (creative, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled). Next they learn to creatively combine sentences into simple four to five sentence paragraphs; then how to write outlines and creative, eight-sentence paragraphs; and finally how to construct creative, twelve-sentence paragraphs that include more interesting sentence structure. By the end of elementary school students can write a well-organized, grammatically correct, properly spelled, interesting three-paragraph essay without stress.

In the early 21st Century, a few K-12 schools reintroduced a structured approach to teaching writing with a creative twist. At one school, students begin writing instruction with phonics-based spelling. Then they learn how to write simple, creative, grammatically correct, properly spelled sentences. The following year they learn to construct slightly longer sentences (creative, grammatically correct, and correctly spelled). Next they learn to creatively combine sentences into simple four to five sentence paragraphs; then how to write outlines and creative, eight-sentence paragraphs; and finally how to construct creative, twelve-sentence paragraphs that include more interesting sentence structure. By the end of elementary school students can write a well-organized, grammatically correct, properly spelled, interesting three-paragraph essay without stress.

As with math, learning to write in a slow methodical way is better than rushing ahead without the necessary foundational skills.

Through fantasy, children face their fears and become braver

The Guardian – Cornelia Funke

“I am often asked – always by grown-ups, never by children – why I write fantasy instead of realistic prose. Of course this question raises another one: how do we define reality? Is Shakespeare unrealistic because he makes ghosts and witches take the stage? What do the magical adventures of Harry Potter reveal – quite brilliantly – about British reality; class, racism and the roots of fascism? In my opinion, the reality of this world and our existence in it can only be described as fantastic. The more we learn about our reality, the more we realise that we don’t understand it at all. We have learned to build ourselves better ears and eyes to find out about the universe that contains each of us like a grain of sand. We’re rightfully very proud of our new instruments, but we’ve distanced ourselves from nature.”(more)

How kids can benefit from boredom

Medical X-Press – Teresa Belton

“From books, arts and sports classes to iPads and television, many parents do everything in their power to entertain and educate their children. But what would happen if children were just left to be bored from time to time? How would it affect their development? I began to think about boredom and children when I was researching the influence of television on children’s storytelling in the 1990s. Surprised at the lack of imagination in many of the hundreds of stories I read by ten to 12 year-old children in five different Norfolk schools, I wondered if this might partly be an effect of TV viewing. Findings of earlier research had revealed that television does indeed reduce children’s imaginative capacities.”(more)

Fantasy play helps creative thinking in children

Medical X-Press – Staff Writer

“Engaging in fantasy play could benefit creative thinking in children suggests a study presented today at the British Psychological Society’s Developmental Psychology Section annual conference. Lead researcher Dr Louise Bunce of Oxford Brookes University said: “A growing body of research is investigating the influence of children engaging in fantasy on their development. We wanted to test whether children who engage in fantasy play are more creative. This is because, theoretically, playing in make-believe worlds requires imagination to conceive of the world differently to its current reality, which is also necessary to think creatively.” Dr Bunce and her team interviewed 70 children aged 4-8 years old to assess the extent to which their fantasy play involved.”(more)

Why make-believe play is an important part of childhood development

The Conversation – Tracy Gleason

“Visit any preschool classroom during free play and you will likely see a child pretending to be someone else. Make-believe play is a ubiquitous part of early childhood. And beyond being fun for kids, pretending and other kinds of imaginative play are also believed by some to be critical to healthy child development. Research has found a relationship between pretend play and a child’s developing creativity, understanding of others and social competence with peers. As a psychologist who studies imaginary play and childhood development and is no stranger to the preschool classroom, I have met many children for whom an imaginary friend or impersonation of a character is more than just an amusing pastime. Such activities often reflect what children have on their minds.”(more)