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Creativity and Imagination

Date: 30 January 2024

As an elementary teacher and doctoral student, I am wildly interested in how my students think and feel about learning. I wonder how I can support my students to engage with ideas, share findings with others and engage deeply to experience the joy and embrace the discomfort and struggle of learning. I integrate the arts into all content areas because I believe the arts allows both the teacher and student to see and feel understanding as we grow and learn from our experiences. The arts also provide access to knowledge and content areas building equity in our schools and systems (Diaz and McKenna, 2017).

I am curious about how creativity and imagination is understood by children. Taking an arts-based research approach to my inquiry, (McNiff, 1998, Leavy, 2020) I asked three children ages 7, 11, 14 to respond to questions by drawing and engaging in a collaborative interview process resulting in three found poems.

Here are the resulting themes which emerged:

  1. Creativity involves an experience
  2. Curiosity
  3. Metaphors
  4. Creating is enjoyable
  5. Metacognition; thinking about thinking
  6. Self-awareness and perspective taking
  7. Emotions; sadness, excitement, joy
  8. Wondering
  9. Motivation; returning to an idea, project or arts practice
  10. Action; drawing more and describing active responses to ideas

After the initial interview I returned to the participants a week later. The children were asked to select the drawing which best represented the questions and ideas we discussed.  Participants were also asked to choose key words and phrases from their own transcribed interview for a found poem.  Below are the selected drawings and found poems. Pseudonyms were selected by the participants to protect their privacy.

All three participants discussed a mind and body connection to their creative experiences while learning. Tracy, shared joy and awareness of her own mood changes when she had a creative idea. Pond began thinking about thinking, reflecting and entering a state of deep awareness about his own experience. Lilah’s self-awareness is seen as she generates ideas which led to increased energy, motivation and action.

Based on this small study, I suggest self-awareness and perspective taking can be seen in children who engage frequently in the creative process. This has the capacity to enhance well-being and allow for active and deep engagement in the learning process.

Tada! Imagination is fun! Yahhh!
Fun! And Happy

Finger painting!
Clay, Clay, clay!
Making box creatures.

You get your hands all freakin’ messy
(Clay gets) Super messy

It’s just so fun
I can paint a rock, like this one in my hand or once I painted an apple on Friday.
When I paint I can paint really good things.

Tracy, age 7

I just thought of something
You can imagine anything but not always it can be accurate
Could it be possible to imagine a color you have never seen before?
I do think that is true
You have seen these things before but there are infinite ways you can put it.
If you weren’t creative
It might be harder to create something
Different than something else you have seen
When are you creative? and when are you just like taking an object form your mind and just moving it around?
Or is that itself creative?
I feel creativity or imagination is just like working behind the scenes.

Pond, age 11

I started drawing faces
It was a metaphor
It could be perfect
Outside the lines
My imagination is just like worlds
Squiggle, Squiggle
Make something up
Creativity feels like making new from old
Old idea, old concept you elaborated on
I have a moment
I create
I have a really good idea
I have all these ideas all the time

Creative idea
I’m leaving my own mark

It drives me forward
And that’s just the idea.

My own words will help me learn
See the world differently
I see
That is just me!

Gifts for people
I don’t want something generic
I know the person
I know about them
I am creative

Dance is art
Choreographer the painter
I’m the colors
Learn to be blue
Learn to be orange
A challenge to be cohesive
You are all different people
Just dancing for dancing
The most tactile from of art
Don’t have limitations of colors
Limitations of shape
Just moving your body
Direct creativity

Lilah, age 14



Diaz & McKenna, (2017). Preparing Educators for Arts Integration: Placing Creativity at the Center of Learning. Teachers College Press

Leavy, P. (2020). Method meets art: Arts-based research practice. New York, NY: The Guilford Press. 

McNiff, S. (1998). Trust the process. Shambala Publications.

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