Balaji is the Co-Founder of Imagin8ors and a parent of two boys, Sid (five and a half) and Ved (three months). Here he kicks off our blog sharing his personal journey with Imagin8ors, and talks about the need for parents to be active custodians of their child’s creative development.
As a parent, I am sure, you would have revelled in the wonder of the “Terrific Threes!” That exciting stage and age in a child’s development when they are propelled by a boundless energy to understand the world around them.
When every moment is a time for exploration. When you are bombarded with those incessant, tough-to-answer questions “Why?” “How?” “What?”
When they have no fear of making mistakes, of stumbling, of falling, of getting hands deep in dirt. When learning is all about play, a sense of wonder, just pure un-adulterated joy!
My journey with Imagin8ors has its origin in the ‘Terrific Threes” that our son Sid and I enjoyed together.
I marvelled at his fluid imagination, at his drive to create, and the zest with which he approached every new twist and turn.
I googled, talked to experts and parents, sought out answers to what I could do to fuel this spark. To understand at a deeper level what he is really learning and to provide the right environment and experiences for him.
As I fell deeper into the rabbit hole, a few things became really clear:
1. Children are born creative geniuses and natural self-directed learners, but our education systems, in-spite of their best intentions, end up stifling creative development. There is a punchy TED talk (“Do Schools Kill Creativity?”) by Sir Ken Robinson, a world renowned education reformer that brings this to life with substance and wit. Our society chases standardised test outcomes over deeper, more meaningful learning. The bulk of teaching emphasises instruction and rote. Children are caught in an arms race of building more impressive resumes to filter through to the top universities. Free, creative, play time is weeded out systematically. There is much to change … and very little time to do it in.
2. The irony is that Imagination and Creativity are potentially the attributes most critical to our childrens’ success in a rapidly-changing, technology amplified world. Content knowledge has become a commodity. What you can do with what you know, already matters more than the knowledge per se. The increasing automation of jobs, puts additional pressure to apply the knowledge in original, novel ways.
3. Parents have a critical role to play in being the custodians of their child’s creativity. Schools are not structured to take charge of developing each child’s creative potential. Parents, the first teachers at an age when the child is at their most creative, are uniquely placed to assume this responsibility. Research shows that regular active engagement with the child like reading together, playing together, supporting their interests, encouraging them to question, etc. actually helps with deeper learning and creative development.
My childhood and their attendant dreams came back to me. I had always wanted to study English Literature, to be a journalist and a writer; but I ended up studying Computer Science and Business. I struggled to stay in touch with my creativity in spite of going to the best colleges and working for Fortune 100 companies. The conviction grew that I did not want this cycle to repeat with Sid, and if it could be helped, with children in general.
A compelling catalyst for me to take the plunge together with Sampath Pudhukottai, a fellow parent of young children and a dear friend from college days, to begin the journey that has today become Imagin8ors.
Along the way, we have been fortunate to get together a team of innovators, educators, technologists, makers, artists who passionately believe in the cause of nurturing the inherent creativity in each child.
Our team is not alone, we have been inspired by countless parents, like yourselves, who echo similar sentiments and are doing all in your power to help children enjoy learning, to stay creative, to find their passions.
We are kicking off this blog to serve as a space for all of us to connect and share knowledge, ideas, anecdotes, and support. We hope that this space can foster a dialogue, one that deserves to be amplified, and followed through to positively impact the most important resource the world has – our next generation; and to prepare them to be successful and happy in a world we cannot even fathom today.
And we hope to do this together with you, exactly like a “Terrific Three” year old would approach it. With optimism, zest, insatiable curiosity, mischief, fearlessness and joy!
Come! Let’s play! 🙂
Pablo Picasso famously said, “Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up.” Nowadays everything is handed to us neatly packaged, with little room for imagination or growth. Quite a contrast from when I was a kid, my first “real” toy was a cardboard box. Sounds weird, but according to my dad, my brother and I would play with that box for hours. Why, because it was the gateway to the moon, a castle for a princess, or a submarine for an oceanographer. The box had no limits, no constraints, the only thing that could bind that cardboard box to the laws of reality was our own mind, and I was too imaginative to do that.Looking back, I realize how monumental my cardboard box days really were. As I intern with Imagin8ors I often find myself face to face with my five-year-old self. When I am thinking of activities that would be fun, creative, and educational for the kids, I have the privilege of abandoning what is rational and functional in hopes of creating something new and exciting.
However, there is a journey I make in order to successfully create these activities. From the moment an idea pops in my head to its final execution, I go through the cycle of mistakes, reforms and most painfully making numerous versions of the product. But I enjoy every step of this process, no matter how tedious it gets. When I get a new assignment there are multiple ideas and possibilities flying around in my head. I have to physically force myself to slow down and write all my ideas, no matter how ridiculous or outrageous they seem at that time. You never know what is ridiculous today can be fantastic tomorrow. The next thing is to get the opinions, ideas, perspective and critiques of the people who sit around me in the office. It’s impossible for anyone to think of everything, everyone is different and they bring their own creativity and experiences to the table. Brainstorming with the team helps. After I settle on an idea my next task is to find a way to visually represent it, in other words lots of sketches. This step is really important as drawing each and every part sets the grooves in my head in motion.After the first two steps comes the fun part, tinkering. When I am building something new I have no idea what materials or adhesives will work, I have to learn by trial and error. I usually make multiple variations of the same ideas to test which one is more functional and realistic. After I have designed the initial prototype I tear it apart, both mentally and physically. One of my professors would always say, “If you are satisfied with something on your first try, you eliminate all possibility of that thing becoming great.” At this stage I look for feedback from all. A critical eye, enables me to achieve a better end result. However, I do believe there is a balance between positive and negative critiquing. You should try not to stifle a person’s confidence, optimism, or the idea itself when criticizing someone’s work. After the much-needed feedback I go back to the drawing board and repeat the whole process. Throughout my life I have never had a project I’ve redone and it has turned out worse than the initial creation.While the process may seem formal and well organized it’s not. The area around my desk usually looks like it has been hit by a tornado. But that is the fun of tinkering and creating. You get your hands messy, you get to be your own boss, and what you do may completely defy any rational and well organized process. That’s the beauty of it, the joy of teaching children that there are no bad or stupid ideas. Everything has potential if you allow yourself time to play with the idea. There is an unparalleled delight in seeing something that you imagined transform into a tangible object. That is the joy I love seeing on a child’s face.
Leah Ferguson, this beautiful, talented Architecture student from Lehigh University, is currently in Singapore on the Iacocca Internship. Along with her internship at Imagin8ors she skillfully balances her love to cook, travel, draw, tinker, write and back home she is part of the Division 1 track team. This extremely dedicated Chicago girl has a sense of humour that makes the lunch table conversations at the office fun and lively.
If you haven’t made plans to head to the Maker Faire Singapore 2016 this weekend, you should!
At this family friendly event, your child and you can meet an army of crafters, techies, artists, engineers, scientists and tinkerers and participate in fun interactive learning and play-based workshops. Immerse yourselves in hands-on activities and discover the inner maker and the curious kid who just like to build things.
The Maker Faire offers many opportunities for parents to expose children to the staggering breadth of creativity (arts, music, technology, electronics, robotics, building, handicrafts, you name it) and the increasing interconnection between disciplines.
Participating in non-instructional, hands-on tinkering activities could offer you and your child to experience and work with ambiguity, to teach them that many times there are no right or wrong answers, and to learn on how to take failure in your stride to iterate and create something of meaning.
So what are you waiting for? See you there!
When: 25 th June 2016 – 26 th June 2016
Where: Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD); 8 Somapah Rd, 487372
About the Maker Faire : The Maker faire is a showcase of the Maker Movement. The original Maker Faire event was held in San Mateo, CA and in 2015 celebrated its tenth annual show with some 1100+ makers and 145,000 people in attendance. In these 10 years, it spread across the world, with Maker Faire Singapore becoming one of the most prominent in Asia.
Maker Faire Singapore is organised by the Singapore Science Center, and attracts thousands of attendees. Click on Maker Faire Singapore 2015 Highlights to view a video to give you a feel for the excitement in store!
Sia Mitra blogger, painter, needlework artist, mother – a woman with fingers in many pies. Living a busy life juggling numerous interests and responsibilities, but her daughter always comes first. Doing many projects together is how this mother-daughter duo bond and have fun together. Hear this Delhi based powerhouse speak about one such holiday project.
Rummaging through some old documents, one manic Sunday, I stumbled upon some old maps. They were detailed, familiar and drawn with exclusively me in mind, by my husband. Gazing at the yellowing paper, I wistfully recalled, how they used to be my sole guide before the smart phone. Peeping over my shoulder my seven–year-old daughter was intrigued, “What is that?”
“It is a map, dear. “ As Darling Daughter ogled it, a fabulous idea germinated in my mind.
“Would you like to make some maps?” My query was met with an enthusiastic affirmative.
Cartography, the art of charting maps, initiated by the Greeks and Arabs, has been around for centuries and now it was time for the mother-daughter duo to get busy too. But first a quick lesson before we ventured into unchartered territories.
“Listen,” I explained “A map is a pictorial representation of an area, with certain predefined symbols used to show the various objects. For example a box with a red cross depicts a hospital. Most of the symbols used in the map are defined and are called legend. Another important aspect of a map is the direction.”
Next morning to understand directions better we stepped out in the garden.
“Now which side is the sun?” I queried.
Darling Daughter dutifully pointed towards the East.
“Let us stand facing the sun. The direction you are facing now is East. Your back is towards the West. Your left hand depicts North and the Right depicts South.”
This is the simplest way to get the hang of directions. Of course you can use an instrument called the compass to know the directions. The needle of the compass always points towards the North. In a map, it is customary to depict the orientation with the help of a North arrow.
Armed with this knowledge we set off for a short stroll from Darling Daughter’s school (My School) to a nearby school (ABC School).
As we walked, I asked her to make a note of the major landmarks we passed. After a leisurely stroll, we sat down on a park bench and drew a picture of the route, marking the landmarks. I encouraged her to draw as many items as she could. At this juncture we were not making maps to scale.
After she finished, the following picture emerged.
This was still a drawing and not a map. To achieve that we had to replace objects with symbols. I introduced her to some of the standard symbols used for map making. She designed the rest of the symbols herself. After some hectic designing these are the symbols we settled on.
Now we inserted the symbols in our original picture. The general paths remaining the same. Now it looked more like a representative map :-
We both grinned ear to ear as we marched back clutching the map like a trophy. Definitely a fun fruitful morning. Sadly before I could bask for two minutes in the glory of it all, I was bombarded with questions about distances and shortest route. Well what can I say, parenting and learning go hand in hand, so the lessons continue.
Have you ever gotten your child to create a map? What was your experience like? Do share…