“Imagination is as much a part of us as the intellect, and exploring it is a way to look inside ourselves.” This is how Gianni Rodari explained, in two precise phrases, what the imagination is for. He continued by saying that learning to use it means learning to use a brave and powerful tool, which provides original solutions to every problem. And a child’s imagination, compared with that of an adult, is even more capable of overcoming banal matters and creating new worlds and new adventures.
That’s why Rodari proposed a Grammar and then Exercises for the Imagination. His idea was to propose a Fantasy in much the same way as there is a Logic, following the intuition of the German poet Novalis whose works Rodari, then a newly-graduated young teacher, read and was profoundly impressed by. A Fantasy is a cognitive tool with which to build stories and you can practice it and freely use it every day.
The Grammar of Fantasy, that contains the theoretical foundations of Fantasy, was dedicated to the city of Reggio Emilia, where the writer met the children, educators and citizens in 1972, and inspired Loris Malaguzzi when he defined his educational method known throughout the world as the “Reggio approach”. However, in the schools of Reggio Emilia for some time there has been a studio in which children are encouraged to express themselves through the “hundred languages”, that is, the hundred points of access to reality that arise from the modes of expression: the physical, emotional and logical . And where they build stories experimenting freely and letting their imagination run wild. Malaguzzi explained that, in that way, the children build their own intelligence, with their own hands and their own emotions along with their brains.
And what about adults? Adults are invited to make this possible by building suitable and stimulating environments, and becoming invisible while the children explore by themselves.
Imagination training therefore does not mean imposing one’s own knowledge, nor guiding the child’s expressiveness. Imagination helps develop language, reasoning, character. Do not be afraid of losing touch with reality: in fact reality is best faced with imagination. Especially since our senses, starting from our sight, do not see an aseptic and rigid reality but interpret it and adapt it: the imagination is a powerful creative act that overlaps within the senses and uses symbols to invent and add depth. And here’s the third key character in this story: Bruno Munari, brilliant artist and designer, often alongside Rodari in the creation of narrative and educational paths. It is Munari, in fact, who illustrated many of the Rodari tales, but they are not just illustrations or graphic captions: they are creative inventions in themselves. Free, he wrote, is the imagination that can “think of anything, even the most absurd, incredible or impossible.”
From Munari’s insights were born creations and games that you can do at home, using a few simple concrete objects but a lot of indispensable freedom.
Bibliography: The Hundred Languages of Children: The Reggio Emilia Experience in Transformation, Loris Malaguzzi – Drawing a tree, Bruno Munari – Teach the grammar of fantasy, Gianni Rodari