Imagination is more important than knowledge

Let your child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Albert Einstein

My co-conspirator to, shared an absolutely awesome New York Times article last week. This October marked 100 years since Einstein came up with the General Theory of Relativity, which is something I barely understand and will not try and explain during this post. What I found most fascinating about the story is how Einstein utilized his imagination to generate his world changing theory about our universe (for those of you not familiar with the story, Einstein imagined he was riding a beam of light through space and this experience is what led him down the path to the General Theory of Relativity).

See Also: What if your child’s Imagination could Soar!

As pointed out in the NY Times article titled The Light-Beam Rider, Einstein ‘relished what he called the Gedankenexperimente’, this was his word for experiments and thoughts that he played out in his head. While none of us will likely claim to have the mind of arguably the greatest scientist of the Twentieth Century, we might still have some type of ‘crazy’ question or theory that we Gedankenexperimente with.

At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.
At the weekend my eldest found a rainbow in our house. I can only imagine what type of thoughts and questions were shooting through his mind as he wiggled his fingers in the different rays of color.

One of mine first began to manifest during my car journeys to Darbyshire to see my Mom’s family. As we sped up or down the M1 at around 70MPH, I would look out the window at all the objects that zoomed past our window. I used to try and make them go slower by fixing my gaze on an object in front, such as a road sign, and then following it as we passed by. I noticed that if I concentrated hard enough I could make the object almost stop in front of my window for a brief moment, before it disappeared behind me. As I played this game a question began to emerge – what would happen if a wasp entered the car and hovered in a stationary position just above my head? Would it zoom back at the same speed as the outside objects such as the road sign, and thus smash and splatter against our back window? Or would it occupy the same space as our car? While I suspected it was the latter, this only generated more questions – what exactly takes place between the wasp hovering 1mm outside my window and zooming by at 70mph, verses being 1mm inside my window and not?

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I reckon this question might easily be answered by a 12th grade physics teacher, and embarrassingly for me, perhaps it’s common knowledge to everyone, but this is the first time I’ve ever shared this question publicly and I still do not have a solution or more importantly WHY! (Hint Hint – comment below if you know the answer!).

As we think about cultivating creative thinking skills in our children there’s two things to make note of from my question about a wasp. For some reason I’ve kept this question locked up in my head for approximately 25 years. What’s stopped me asking this question? Why didn’t I bring it up during my hundreds of science lessons at school? Why didn’t I ever ask my parents or friends?

In fact, Einstein did more than just notice what the blind beetle couldn’t see. He was able to imagine it by conjuring up thought experiments. That ability to visualize the unseen has always been the key to creative genius. As Einstein later put it, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” – Walter Issacson (NY Times)

I wonder if this is a question that I must answer on my own? Am I forever destined to wrestle with this question until I begin to formulate a theory? Do we all have these types of experiences as a child – and if so perhaps there really is a scientist within everyone of us?

As these thought experiments remind us, creativity is based on imagination. If we hope to inspire kids to love science, we need to do more than drill them in math and memorized formulas. We should stimulate their minds’ eyes as well. Even let them daydream.- Walter Issacson (NY Times)

Read The Light-Beam Rider here.

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School’s Out: What has your kid learned this year?


There is an Aboriginal tribe in Western Australia – they don’t celebrate birthdays chronologically – but only celebrate if a person has truly learned something. What if you didn’t celebrate each passing year just for the sake of +1 – but only if you really learned something – gained a knowledge tool that you didn’t have in your belt last year…or the year before…or ever.

What has your kid learned this year?

End of June – you’ve received your kid’s report card. You’ve scanned the pages of columns with the checks and grades – and gotten a snapshot of what? Do you really know what your son or daughter has learned? I’m talking about navigational knowledge – not rote knowledge. Rote knowledge is important – it’s the foundation – it’s the starting point. Truth north. It’s great for calm seas and clear sky.

Is that the future our kids are heading into?

Here’s my question & concern: Are we doing enough to teach our kids the creative problem solving skills that will serve them – when as futurists point out:

We simply cannot know what students will need to know in their future lives.

But we know one skill students will need to know in the future: learning how to learn.

Back to today: We do fine with assessing how a student did on a 6th grade math final.

Report Card lgr

But show me a report card that emphasizes innovative thinking or creative problem-solving skills. These are essential skills our kids will need to navigate a digitized world with boundaries so fluid that student avatars will fare better than classical cartographers.

It is our challenge as educators and parents to take a more creative and far-reaching approach to what we teach & grade in school and reinforce at home.

Below are three categories that probably didn’t appear on any year-end report card. I turned them into a discussion with my daughter about her 6th grade year:

  1. What have you learned about how to learn?

 “We did coding this year,” Natalie said, “and what’s cool is you get to create your own world…your own alternate universe.” I don’t know coding – and Natalie explained that in developing code there are gaps when you don’t have all the necessary information:

“Sometimes it’s like an incomplete puzzle – you may just get a few pieces,” she explained, “but it’s your responsibility to try and imagine the whole picture – as part of solving the problem.”

She added, “It’s like one move can determine the outcome. Might be right or wrong – but you have to try.”

 Research has shown that trial and error is a key component of the creative process and of all learning. Hearing Natalie mention making a mistake or failing at something led to a second question:

  1. What have you learned about how to approach a “difficult” or “confusing” problem?

“At first I got frustrated a lot. You and Mom tell me that mistakes and failure are part of learning. Like figuring out something new on my computer. I still get frustrated sometimes – but I learned – it’s okay not knowing what to do at first. I try to persevere. It doesn’t always work but…..when you’re down – there’s no other way but up. It’s really okay to make mistakes. ”

Time for me to step back – startled that this was an eleven-year old talking. I know when I was a sixth grader in a strict all-boys school – Dickensian schoolmasters publicly shamed and damned anyone who made mistakes or, even worse, failed.

 As parents – it’s so important to allow our kids to make mistakes on their own as part of the learning process.

It’s also important to celebrate their successes. But “What is a success?”   An A+ in history. Yes – acknowledge the accomplishment.

But parents must also be aware of less obvious accomplishments such as:

  • When a student struggles to understand any academic problem (and the fear and insecurity that bubbles forth) and then perseveres and solves it independently.
  • When a student fights through an uncertainty or insecurity and discovers a voice they didn’t know they had and expresses it as an idea or opinion or in a project.

Accomplishments like these are as important as any A+.

  1. What have you learned about creative problem solving?

“That it’s fun! It can be like the best playground. Anywhere!” Natalie said.

Natalie told me about a “great assignment” her science teacher gave the class. Students had to use their imagination to create an environment similar to a cell. My wife and I and Natalie sat around the dining room table one night and brainstormed about different possibilities. Some made sense. Some were ridiculous. But, most important, we tried to create an environment where it was safe to express any idea.

After some trial and error, Natalie came to us with an idea that we hadn’t discussed – the environment of a farm for the model of a cell: the farm house as the nucleus; the silo as vacuoles; tools, shovels etc. as lysosomes; and the surrounding fence as the membrane.


Often times our kids don’t realize the significance of a particular breakthrough. As parents we must make our kids aware of and celebrate their developing abilities in learning how to learn, discovering their unique voice and in creative problem solving.

Hopefully our kids will then circle these points on the map of their developing consciousness. We can help calibrate the compass they will use when facing new territories. But before we feel too self-important – we have to realize it’s the kid’s first compass – a starting point – and they may decide to throw away that compass – or use it in ways we can’t even envision.

Review the report cards you received in the mail. But go beyond the listed categories and check marks – try to discover the less obvious but equally important areas where your child may have broken new ground.

 Revisionist history has not been kind to Christopher Columbus – but he said something that rings true for any learner in a physical or virtual age:

 “You can never cross the ocean unless you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”


If you’re a parent you might be interested in the following articles from DadsforCreativity:

Let Your Child Daydream: Imagination is more important than Knowledge

Role of Trial and Error in Creativity

12 Books to read before you’re 12!

What if…Your Child’s Imagination Could Soar!


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Can a child's imagination go too far (1)

Can a child’s imagination go too far? Introducing Coconut Island

Hello World – I’m Coconut Island

Anyone heard of Coconut Island? I’m not talking about the Coconut Island that Google Maps will take you to on the island of Hawaii. I’m taking about the Coconut Island that now exists in the Indian Ocean. Yes, that’s right! Me, and my boy have been busy over the winter adding a new Island to our world, which I think makes for a good excuse for not blogging much over the last few months.

See Also: Imagination is more important than knowledge

Well to be accurate, my boy’s imagination has been busy manifesting a small horse shaped island not too far away from Madagascar, which has moved about a little, but now resides at approximately 10.479898 Latitude, and 42.710072 Longitude, thanks to the new world map we created in Photoshop (see below) – has this gone too far? Can a child’s imagination go too far?

The location of Coconut Island as described by my boy.
The location of Coconut Island as described by my boy. Was putting it into Photoshop too much?

It could be argued that my role as a parent on this project has been limited to a silent observer and videographer – but clearly I’m encouraging! I’m not really sure where the island came from, how it’s customs materialized, and why Mount Humainus, it’s tallest peak, was once a volcano, but no it’s not – I’ve learnt a lot about the island as part of our Discover Coconut Island series that we started on our YouTube channel.

It’s certainly been fun asking him questions about this epic adventure, which has just grown and grown and grown. Even his teachers and friends and school have heard about Coconut Island, and I’ve started to wonder if we’ve (or more specifically ‘I’) been playing into his imagination too much? What do you think? Can a parent’s encouragement take child a little too far beyond reality? Is that ever a bad thing?

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Here are 4 reasons why I’m ok about encouraging his imagination right now:

  • He seems to apply factual information that he obtains about the real world to his island. For example, we only heard about Mount Humainus after watching a show about Mount Everest.
  • Our conversations about Coconut Island, have given us reason to utilize Google Maps, learn about the Climate near the equator, and explore some of the things that I suspect will come up in his geography lessons.
  • He seems to be creating a ‘culture’ that has money, customs, and a value system. It feels like every time we share something new, such as what people eat in other countries, or what they believe, he takes this into his heard and responds with it’s equivalency on Coconut Island.
  • I think the initial concept of Coconut Island came about during a SKYPE call with Granma, so anything that adds to their relationship and brings them closer together is never a bad thing.

PS. I’m back – I’ll be blogging approximately once a week over the summer and have collected some FANTASTIC 3 Question Interviews, that I’ll be sharing soon.


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Creativity Chit-Chat: Enjoying ‘Playtime’ with my boy (Imaginative Play)

I’ve been trying to sort through my thousands of photos on my Mac computer. I can’t wait for someone to produce an application that removes all the duplicates, and automatically places them in folders based on your child’s age, the season, and location. One of the images of Lucas from last winter was taken on a walk around our complex – I remember it lasted hours as we battled the elements, climbed up steep mountains, and transported to different dimensions (though there was always some connection to Frozen). I’ve had many similar experiences, a bike ride in Cape Code that turned into an adventure with a Gruffalo, fairies, a magical wood, dinosaur bones, and a scary forest. Another involved a giant Tsunami that we just survived on a beach in Italy.

See Also: My Magical Garden: Where were your Imaginary Worlds?

Giving up to your child’s imagination is so easy when you let go of your surroundings. You can visit magical places, and rekindle childhood connections. Sadly, I know this won’t last, and already I feel some of our recent walks are becoming more fact-based and centered on real-world questions. But, joining in with the imaginative play, not only encourages creative thinking, it makes for some blissful memories of ‘playtime’ with our children.

Lucas finally reaches the top of a mountain, or rather volcano covered in Snow - I can't remember!
Lucas finally reaches the top of a mountain, or rather volcano covered in Snow – I can’t remember!


Ah yes - Lucas's obsession with Mermaids. Here he had just washed up on a beach and was about to grow legs.
Ah yes – Lucas’s obsession with Mermaids. Here he had just washed up on a beach and was about to grow legs.


IMG_4532-1 (1)
Getting ready for our first bike ride. Little did we know that we were embarking on an adventure to a magical wood full of fairies and gruffalo.


Moments after the giant wave ripped us apart.
Moments after the giant wave capsized our boat, and ripped us apart, while enjoying the sun on a beach in Italy.

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