Albert Einstein said in a letter to his son a century ago that the best way to learn is to enjoy what you are doing so much that you do not even notice the passage of time, a recommendation reflected in numerous projects to encourage young children’s creativity.  “I am very pleased that you find joy with the piano … Mainly play the things on the piano which please you, even if the teacher does not assign those,” Einstein, who said he was often so immersed in his scientific work that he forgot to eat lunch, wrote in the letter dated 1915.

“That is the way to learn the most, that when you are doing something with such enjoyment that you don’t notice that the time passes.”

In that same spirit, a range of projects including The Genius Hour, the Imagination Foundation’s “Global Cardboard Challenge,” and the Maker Education Initiative invite young learners to explore passions that rigid school systems frequently stifle.  “Studies show that childhood creativity, generally speaking, has declined over the last 20 years in the United States,” Nirvan Mullick, a U.S. documentary filmmaker and founder of the Imagination Foundation, told Efe in an interview.

The reasons for this decline in creativity are not entirely clear, according to Mullick, although he said he believes the rigid classroom structure that exists at many schools and the elimination of many non-core activities due to budget constraints could be part of the problem.  “It’s a big challenge for children to find the space and time to pursue their passion,” he said.

The director created the Imagination Foundation, a non-profit organization that strives to foster the creativity and entrepreneurship of children worldwide, after filming a documentary two years ago on Caine Monroy, a boy in Los Angeles who built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his father’s used auto-parts store. 

“I went to buy a part for my car and I met this boy who was behind a cardboard box. I ended up playing with him and becoming his customer and I made a documentary about him because his games were incredible,” Mullick said.

The documentary went viral on the Internet and that widespread interest prompted the California-based filmmaker to create a foundation that encourages young people around the world to give free rein to their imagination.  “We have two programs: a global cardboard contest that culminates with a day of play, and imagination chapters … which have already been set up in 30 sites in different parts of the world,” Mullick said.

The Global Cardboard Challenge invites children of all ages to come together at events worldwide and “build something amazing out of cardboard, recycled materials and imagination,” the foundation’s Web site says.  Imagination Chapters, meanwhile, are “community-organized learning spaces that foster creativity, entrepreneurship and critical 21st century skills in children through Creative Play,” the site says.  Another program known as “Genius Hour” encourages schools and teachers to set aside one hour a day for children to explore their passions.  The idea is based on a Google initiative that allows employees to devote 20 percent of their time to pet projects and which has given rise to products such as Gmail and Google News.

“The same genius hour principles apply in the classroom as they do in the corporate environment,” Genius Hour’s Web site says.  The teacher provides a certain amount of time for the students to work on passion projects and challenges them to develop a project in an area that interests them.  The students spend several weeks researching the topic before they start creating a product that will be shared with the class/school/world, the Web site says.

For its part, the Maker Education Initiative, which already is present in 19 U.S. states, strives to create opportunities for young people to make things with their hands and thereby spark their interest in science, technology, engineering, math, and the arts.  The emergence of all of the initiatives “shows we’re going through a period of transition, of changes in which we’re experimenting and re-imagining the way in which young people learn,” Mullick said. EFE

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