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Draw them out

Mark Edwards suggests practical ways to help children develop their imagination

Do you remember Kim's game? It was once a popular party game in which a number of objects were placed on a tray. After half a minute or so they were covered with a cloth and whoever could remember the most got a prize. It sounds simple, but it was a good way to develop visual memory.

Listening well also involves visualising. Children can get more from hearing a story, for instance, if they use their mind's eye.

In an age where ready-made visual images on a screen seem to dominate children's lives (and in which children are no longer regularly read to at school), this could be the time to give them the opportunity to practise what may become a forgotten art.

"Imagination is more important than knowledge," said Einstein. It is no coincidence that the word imagination derives from "image" - a visual representation. To develop children's imaginative abilities and listening skills at the same time, try the following activities: lAsk them to draw something from memory, such as a favourite object from home. Make a few suggestions at first. Ask them to close their eyes and picture the object in their mind - its colours, shape and immediate surroundings - then ask them to draw it.

lAs an extension, ask a child to describe what he or she has drawn without naming it. The rest of the class try to guess what it is.

lKim's game itself is an excellent activity and can be incorporated into most subjects. As an introduction to a science unit on materials, for example, gather a variety of objects or photographs of objects.

lMost primary classrooms have a stock of Multilink cubes. Ask a child to construct a shape using five or six of them, unseen by the rest of the class. The child describes the shape to the other pupils, who attempt to build the same model from the description.

This is not just about using language skilfully, though that is important.

It involves the listener "seeing" in their mind what the describer can see.

How's that for understanding another person's point of view?

There are endless variations: try abstract shapes combined together, such as a circle inside a square with a cross in the top left corner, which the children can easily draw. More sophisticated work can be developed as the their skill increases - and it will.

An interesting departure from this theme is the following word-association activity. Most learning theorists agree that concepts are formed by making connections between previously unrelated ideas, objects or experiences.

This often involves visualisation, even at a high level of thinking - the chemist Kekule made his breakthrough discoveries about how molecules are formed while watching flames in his fireplace and imagining them as snakes.

Tell the class that you are going to say a word and that they should draw a picture that is connected to that word, but which is not that word. They will have to visualise the word then to understand its context.

So for butterfly, they might draw a flower; for aeroplane, a cloud - and so on.

After some practice, children can develop this ability by creating chains of association - "cat", for example, might lead to "basket-fruit-banana-monkey-jungle-rain".

Try it - a lot of fun and a lot of learning is to be had. Seeing is believing.

Introducing Children to Mind-Mapping by Eva Hoffman (Learn to Learn Publications pound;19.99); Teaching Meditation to Children David Fontana (Element pound;8.99) Mark Edwards is an inservice trainer and writer

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