Give them the freedom to soar
Every child has a natural curiosity that expands into creative thinking. It is up to parents and teachers to nurture this trait, writes Vatsala Vedantam
I recently came across an interesting experiment in some elementary schools. A hungry “magic box” installed in every classroom asked the students to feed it — with stories!
There was a terrific response with kids of different age groups from different classes pouring in all their literary and creative efforts to feed the box whose appetite for stories was insatiable. They let their imagination soar as they wrote about heroic animals, compassionate birds, and trees that could talk a language of their own. The hungry magic boxes were soon overflowing with amazing tales of love, hate and friendship. The natural world seen through the eyes of children was a thrilling, yet forgiving place where there was no space for bad and ugly things.
“Stories that Soar” is an innovative programme that some primary schools in America have adopted to encourage shy children express their thoughts freely. But that is not all. The schools turn over these childish efforts to professional theatre groups who have discovered remarkable talent and originality in some of them which they have translated into magical plays. Rich in drama and music, these plays are returned to the schools as wonderful theatrical productions.
What an experience for the young authors, and what a treasure trove of fresh material for the theatre. To get original stories from he uncluttered minds of child writers! The plays are rich in dance and acrobatics too in order to match the lively imagination of the stories themselves. The popularity of this experiment has resulted in public performances where adult audiences get a glimpse of children’s imagination transported to the stage by professional actors.
“Stories that Soar” is only one example of how schools and teachers can encourage their pupils’ creativity. Every child has a natural curiosity that expands into creative thinking. If this creativity is recognised early, it may soar to great heights. It is up to parents and teachers to identify such traits in their wards. When they fail to do so, or even discourage a talented child by ignoring, suppressing and even criticizing them as a “waste of time” which should be better spent on studies, they not only kill the talent but they are making a sparkling mind into a mediocre one. We have child artists, child writers or even child scientists who may be very average in school, but who display an amazing sense of original thinking.
There are some teachers and parents who even go to the extent of putting down those children and punishing them for thinking differently from others! It is time that our system of elementary education changed its value systems that prioritise textbook learning above all else; that makes passing in examinations and getting ranks and awards the very purpose of education. If we still have writers, actors, artists and other geniuses in our midst, it must be said that they have survived in spite of our education system — and not because of it.
How many schools have libraries that are freely accessible to their students? As far as I have seen, most school libraries are places where children can enter only on specified days and times. They are not allowed to touch and handle the books by themselves. They can do so only under the supervision of a teacher. The fear that they may mishandle or mutilate the books makes it difficult for them to browse, enjoy and savour a book.
Instead of teaching them to respect books as the repositories of knowledge, schools are encouraging them to turn into enemies of books who vandalise or even steal pages out of them when they get a chance to do so! If young children had free access to libraries and books where a teacher could educate them to handle them with respect and care, they would grow up to love and cherish books. They will read them, enjoy them and turn to them as their best friends. Reading will invariably lead to writing. Great authors have always been great book lovers. As long as schools lock their libraries, and as long as teachers are unwilling to recognise the benefits of good reading, children’s creativity is stifled.
That is why good educationists have understood the value of reading to children who love to listen to stories. What better method of educating their impressionable minds? And what more effective way of enthusing them to write themselves? The hungry boxes that were placed in those elementary schools were not just a gimmick. There was a world of thoughtful education behind them. They not only encouraged the students to write their stories which they would see acted out on a stage later, they also made them want to read, learn and understand the world around them. Having done so, they made them want to express their own feelings and reactions to that world.
They made them good readers and writers. Perhaps, when their efforts got translated into a theatrical experience, some of them would later blossom into playwrights themselves. The possibilities are endless. A good system of education always explores such possibilities. Schools are not meant to imprison minds, but to free them. An unfettered mind can soar to unimaginable heights. If our classrooms became like those hungry boxes, their inhabitants will always strive to feed them.