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Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 36:179–185 DOI 10.1007/s10643-008-0261-4

Understanding Imaginative Thinking During Childhood: Sociocultural Conceptions of Creativity and Imaginative Thought
Angela Eckhoff Æ Jennifer Urbach

Published online: 10 June 2008 Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract Understanding imagination as both a cognitive and affective endeavor is crucial inorder for educators to promote creative and imaginative thinking in informal and formal learning environments. It is the primary aim of this paper to develop the theoretical discussion of Vygotsky’s writings on young children’s imaginative abilities launched by Gajdamaschko (Teach Educ 16(1):13–22, 2005) and Lindqvist (Res J 15(2&3):245–251, 2003). This paper illustrates Vygotsky’s writings on thecognitive processes involved in children’s imagination and creativity and concludes with a discussion focused on the components of an educational environment that can either support or stifle children’s imaginative abilities. It is through this continuing discussion that, as researchers, we hope to extend and challenge current conceptions of the role of imaginative thinking in early education.Keywords Imagination Á Creativity Á Visual arts Á Early literacy

itself thought’s direction? Presumably our educational foci would then be very different (Sutton-Smith 1988, p. 7). What if? The question itself opens up numerous possibilities for educators. What if we viewed imaginative thought and creativity as fundamental to cognition? What if discussions of school reform focused on infusingimaginative thinking into the curriculum instead of ‘‘covering the content’’ and ‘‘teaching to the test’’? In this paper, we assert that imagination is critical to education. In order to successfully point out the need for, and importance of, imagination in education, it is essential to integrate conceptions of imagination into existing knowledge of child development and cognition. It is a major tenetof this paper that the process of integrating imaginative and creative thinking into children’s educational experiences allows for a focus on a prospective (educating for the future and problems not yet known) rather than a retrospective view of education (focus on mastering solutions to problems already known) (Kozulin 1993; Lindqvist 2003). In this view, imagination can and should be fostered asa key element in children’s daily lives. Imagination, as we conceive it, has an unsure place in today’s educational climate. Runco and Johnson (2002) found that for the most part, teachers and parents in the United States view creative traits in children favorably. In fact, a recent poll conducted by Lake Research Partners (The Imagine Nation 2008) found that almost 9 in 10 respondents (89%)reported that using imaginative thinking is important to one’s innovation and success in our global 21st century economy. One’s implicit views of imagination and creativity are quite important because ‘‘(t)he development of creativity in children is dependent, at least in part, on the environment in which they participate’’ (Runco

But what if the imagination is itself the very font of thought? Whatif the imagination is what permits thought to work by providing it with the images and metaphors that give it direction? What if the imagination is primarily not mere fancy or imitation, but is

A. Eckhoff (&) Eugene T. Moore School of Education, Clemson University, 401 B Tillman Hall, Clemson, SC 29634-0705, USA e-mail: J. Urbach University of Northern Colorado, Greeley,CO, USA



Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 36:179–185

and Johnson 2002). Favorable views of childhood creativity by adults are important because these adults help to create learning environments in which creativity can either be valued and encouraged or under-valued and discouraged. Understanding imagination as more than mere ‘‘fancy or imitation’’ (Sutton-Smith 1988, p. 7) is...
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