The founding pillars of innovation are curiosity and imagination—but have we forgotten how to be curious? Is imagination an endangered species? We asked award-winning children’s author, Michelle Worthington, to investigate clever ways for vitalizing exploration as a tool to develop critical and creative thinking in tandem.

Little Naturalists exploring the living world with minds wide open.

How to inspire young minds and foster inventive, experimental and resourceful future leaders!

I was speaking with some author friends recently, and we all agreed that in our recent author visit experience, children were struggling with the concept and practical application of imaginative play. Prompting the question, “Is imagination in danger of becoming extinct?”

Modern children are wonderful at mimicry and mirroring instruction. They excel at engaging in guided learning but with the current curriculum and focus on learning outcomes, more so than learning pathways. Are they losing the ability to think creatively, independently and inventively?

The important role that imagination plays in creating engagement in more than just rope-learning and a strict curriculum can miss the essence of the need for questioning, exploration and extended discussion around issues important to children as individuals.

We need to remember that children are not born with imagination. Imagination is a learned strategy that is modeled and used by a caregiver to construct meaningful interpretations of the seen and unseen world in which we live. The importance of creating an environment in which children learn to use their imagination can be undervalued in a technologically advanced culture. However, what is exciting is that the technology lends itself to children becoming proactive, responsive and able to engage with any medium that requires individual interpretation and creative thinking.

There is huge potential for educational outreach through platforms like Instagram, for example. The context and culture of imagination influences engagement in many areas of children’s lives and social media is a tool for experimentation and learning. Children use their imagination as a tool in their interactions with the world around them as they attempt to make sense of it or craft their own interpretations. The act of imaginative play itself becomes the environment from which information is gathered and comprehensive communications like documentaries and home-schooling through social media have become a tried and tested way to initiate critical thinking. They also become more motivated to take part in learning because of the engaging properties of the use of these platforms as a teaching tool.

Doing some online research inspired by deep space, father and son explore the universe imagining a world beyond!

David Attenborough’s presence on Instagram (@davidattenborough) has reinvigorated interest in conservation and climate change, and throughout his career he has been an advocate of creative thinking to help come up with the solutions. The reflexivity inherent in using imagination is that when the culture of the learning environment permits children to question, explore and invent, not only are they cognitively engaged, but the use of imagination elicits engagement in the decision making around the future of their world. There is a lot we can learn from the imagination of our children.

Children can also use their own short-form storytelling platforms as a way of sharing of thoughts, feelings and ideas. The essential ingredients for producing authentic media in this format is to model the conscious behaviour and allow age-appropriate conversations of important topics relevant to their life and learning in a safe cyber space. We need to teach the next generation to use their imagination in a way that makes sense to them if we hope to have the inventors, the dreamers and the big idea makers that will take them into the next century and beyond. More than any of that… using your imagination is so much fun.

Michelle Worthington is an international award-winning author and business woman. Two-time winner of the International Book Award and finalist in the USA Best Book Awards, Michelle also received a Gellett Burgess Award and a Silver Moonbeam Award for her contribution to celebrating diversity in literature. She is dedicated to encouraging a strong love of reading and writing in young children and conducts author visits at primary and special schools, libraries and bookstore storytelling and publishing workshops for adults. She especially enjoys meeting people through her speaking engagements for women’s groups and charities.

Explorer and media producer, passionate about nature, culture and travel. Combining science and conservation with investigative journalism to provide resources and opportunities for creative exploration.