review by Maryom
Meet Nimesh. To you he might look like an average schoolboy, but really he's an adventurer. Wherever he goes, whether at school, walking home past the shops or in the park, he always sees something to inspire him, and transport him from the everyday world and away on adventures. He encounters dragons and sharks, he can sail with pirates or explore the arctic, meet a Maharaja's guard or find a beautiful princess - after all, anything is possible with a little imagination.
Ranjit Singh's words, accompanied by Mehrdokht Amini's colourful illustrations, bring Nimesh's make-believe world vividly to life, while showing how children (and adults, for that matter) can find inspiration anywhere. We're delighted to welcome Ranjit to the blog today to tell us more ...
On Encouraging Children To Use Their Imaginations And Actively Engage In Story Telling
by Ranjit Singh
In Nimesh the Adventurer, the central character, Nimesh, uses his own imagination to make a game of his journey home. He sees his imagination as a power that he can switch on and off at will, and uses it for joy, excitement and humour. The story takes place as a dialogue between Nimesh and an unnamed, presumably much ‘wiser’ questioner, who goes along with Nimesh for the ‘story’ of each scenario they find themselves in.
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up”- Pablo Picasso.
Most children seem to have a natural faculty for imagination. It is something they tend to lose around the onset of their teenage years. Yet the ability to visualise- to conceive be-yond the ordinary- is something that we associate with genius in many fields, for example the composer that composes in their head (Beethoven), the designer that perfects in their imagination (Michelangelo) and the scientist that ponders new solutions only to have an interior realisation (Newton). It is the meeting point between reality and imagination that seems to be a point of human discovery- examples like Archimedes in his bath or Einstein with his thought experiments. Indeed, for the progress of humanity, it seems that imagination is something adults need to learn from children. Maybe this is one of the ways in which “child is the father of man”.
We could start by considering that imagination and storytelling are explicit expressions, languages and gateways of the mind. They are among the ways that we can tap into and influence our own minds (and hence our lives) for the better. With their imaginations, we could ask children- what do they want to see in the world? Who do they want to be? And how can they change ‘their story’ to realise their ambitions? After all, isn’t this part of what a “visionary” does - conceives an idea and then communicates his plan (or ‘story’)? Famed entrepreneur Steve Jobs once said, “The most powerful person in the world is the story teller. The storyteller sets the vision, values and agenda of an entire generation that is to come." This echoes the saying attributed to Plato, that "those who tell stories, rule society.”
A lot of the knowledge that we have passed down, it seems, was and is passed down in the form of stories and even when this knowledge is highly abstract, we have the story about its discovery. For example, many mathematicians were inspired by reading ‘Men of Mathematics’, a book that presents the biographies of famous mathematicians from history. In the sciences, we also have stories of the ways in which things were unexpect-edly discovered - like penicillin. By learning and telling these stories for themselves, children can partake in their wonderment, and learn self-confidence and open minded-ness, and also how to share knowledge and talk to one another.
Stories also provide a two-way communication channel between two parties- in this case children and adults. They also provide a middle ground, for how else can two groups so psychologically far apart understand each other? Through stories, we can communicate things to children that may otherwise be above their understanding or experience (e.g. mathematical principles, history), and they can communicate things they do not have the vocabulary or confidence to express (such as anxiety, or their own opinions).
Nimesh’s walk home from school could be viewed as intimidating or just boring for a child from an adult’s perspective, but Nimesh sees it with childlike vitality- as an adven-ture. Like Nimesh, children can share their knowledge, viewpoints, visions, humour and feelings with us with confidence and without feeling the need to colour them with the perceived expectations of others or for the sake of conformity. By encouraging children to become storytellers in their own right, we encourage more natural and honest forms of expression than what would emerge when we engage with them in a purely didactic pro-cess. Nimesh acts as a confident tour guide to his questioner, eventually winning him over to his worldview.
Children can use storytelling as a process for introspection, reflection or questioning, By thinking over their own ‘story’, they can use such reflection to become the authors of their own lives - change their stories, rewrite bad experiences – and grow in their power, despite external circumstances. Or they can use their imaginations to mentally escape bad circumstances. Here we are reminded of the holocaust survivors and prisoners of war who made use of their minds to imagine what they would do if they were free- music, chess-playing, philosophy.
We also read history like a story to help us connect to, remember, learn and gain from the past, for as Orwell said, “a historian is a prophet looking backwards.” Beyond even this, stories are used to impart moral instruction and inspire wisdom, deep thinking and a sense of humour. We can make children conscientiously aware of all these uses and man-ifestations of storytelling so that they can engage in a variety of learning processes- they can then become ‘adventurers’, with minds open to learn. (Dragons, sharks, pirates, the North Pole- these are all things Nimesh may have read or heard about at school).
On the flip side, by encouraging children to tell stories we can also teach them to become aware of when they are ‘being told a story’ under the guise of false facts, or when some-one else is presenting them with a false (imaginary) argument. We can also teach them to be aware that imagination and storytelling do not necessarily mean self- delusion or invite only automatic acceptance, and can also be a non-judgmental invitation to question.
Milton famously wrote, “the mind is its own place”. By encouraging storytelling and im-agination in children, we can make them aware that they have their own space, within their minds, to feel confident and secure, happy and free to dream.