Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world. (Albert Einstein)
When parents come and visit my nursery, I often get asked about the education we provide. The adult world today has become so fast and so demanding that we feel, in order to be good parents and prepare our children for the ‘real life’, we must inject information endlessly into them. Just playing is considered a waste of time.
What is imagination for kids? Does it have any value other than fun?
What is wisdom?
While the biological data with which we are born dictates our level of intelligence, it does not determine how smart we become. Our wisdom is actually the total result of a mix of abilities operating in our minds: memory, review, perception to details, different types of attention, ability to differentiate between what is important and relevant and what is not, and more and more. But all of these need a manager. An authority that knows how to operate the workers at the right time, that can plan and make decisions, and especially knows how to identify faults and recognize when a change in plan is needed – and how to find a solution.
The manager in our minds is actually a set of abilities called in professional language – Managerial functions.
Numbers and letters are not that important
Developmental researchers can now determine that these thinking abilities are more significant than the IQ level, in terms of the children’s readiness for school, their academic success and their success in life in general. Managerial functions make it possible to plan and act more precisely: to think a moment before action, to face unexpected challenges, to ignore disruptions and to stay focused. It turns out that knowing the letters and numbers are the least significant components for children when they reach first grade, and more importantly is their ability to focus on the tasks in front of them, delay inappropriate responses, mental flexibility that allows problem solving and the ability to self-test.
Research shows that kindergarten children who played rich imaginative games were more focused and better coping with tasks. They were successful in school and had higher managerial abilities.
Children who play imaginative games are required to listen to the other children playing and learn to respond accordingly. The game also helps children practice the ability to resist and delay automatic responses.
How games have changed
In the past, games mainly included free activities in which children were allowed the freedom to invent the rules of the game themselves and fill it with abstract thinking. Today, children’s games mainly include toys, which naturally define the nature of the game. The high quality of life and abundance, as well as the awareness of risks, make us (parents and child caregivers) prefer safe games and protected environments. It’s not that the kids stopped playing and having fun, they just follow a more defined structure or instructions.
Emotional and cognitive effect
A growing number of psychologists believe that these changes in the way children play also led to a change in children’s cognitive and emotional development. It turns out that all this time children spent in imaginative games really helped them develop critical cognitive skills – those managerial functions. These functions have different elements, but one of the main ones is the ability to regulate itself. A child with good self-regulation is able to control his emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exercise self-control and discipline.
Self-regulation is very important. Weak managerial function has to do with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, a good managerial function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to regulate their emotions and be focused are more successful in learning. In fact researchers claim that self-regulation predicts effective development in almost every field.
One of the reasons why imaginative games are a powerful tool for building self-discipline is that while using imagination, children engage in so-called private speech: they talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it. It has been found that this language of self-regulation is at its highest during games of imagination and this type of language of self-regulation has been proven in many studies as the source for the development of the managerial function.
It’s not just kids who use self-talk to control themselves. If we look at adult’s use of private speech we will find we use it to overcome obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions.
It’s time to make a change
Despite evidence of the benefits inherent in imaginative games, even among young children in early childhood, their practice is declining. Teachers and school principals simply do not see value in a game of imagination. Because of the exams, and the emphasis placed on taking the exams, teachers spend their time teaching the children the basics of the tests from a younger age. The game was perceived as unnecessary, as a waste of time.
It seems that in the race to give children an advantage – to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them – our culture has hurt one of the activities that helped them most. It turns out this wasted time was not a waste, after all.
I hope you found this informative. If you have any questions or thoughts on the matter, feel free to leave a comment below. I will be happy to hear from you.
All the best,