MICHAEL KORN, FOUNDER and LEAD INSTRUCTOR
While reflecting on the role creativity and imagination played in my childhood, I started reminiscing about playing. I was fortunate to grow up in an era when it was common for children to have only one or two toys to treasure at a time. For me, it was first playing with Tinker Toys. Much of my play was solitary. When I was seven or eight years old, sticks became my guns when I played army. I commanded my imaginary troops into combat missions against the Nazis. I am certain this play helped counter the nightmares I had about being rounded up onto trucks along with other Jews. These repetitive nightmares stemmed from my parents both sharing their experiences as Holocaust survivors with my sister, brother, and I when we were young. When I was ten years old my parents got me my first baseball glove and ball. I tossed balls high into the air, ran underneath the throw, and pretended I was Willy Mays making basket-like catches. I loved playing baseball. Today, as a lifelong student and teacher, I play basketball, and my make believe fans in the stands chant for me to take the last and winning shot.
Dr. Seuss, and then the Beatles, were big influences in my budding young creative mind. I have fond memories of my Mom teaching me how to read The Cat in the Hat. Dr. Seuss’ pictures inspired me to draw my own crazy feathered animals. I was fortunate to have an older brother and sister who loved and turned me onto the Beatles. I wanted to be friends with John Lennon. I would walk home from high school on my own, often singing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, Hey Jude, and Yesterday. When nobody was home, I would blast the stereo to the max volume and sing Oh Darling to my made-up audiences. Imagination and play were where it was at for me; it makes up a big part of what makes me tick today.
My father and mother had a huge impact on developing not only my character, but also my desire to create. My dad was a tailor and my mother a teacher of preschoolers. There were crayons, scissors, glue, tape measures, and construction paper on hand. My sister and brother are talented artists. My favorite pastime is drawing. I tend to draw much more from my imagination. Typically I do not start out drawing what I see or with something in mind. Rather, pictures reveal themselves to me while I am drawing or doodling.
There are two school teachers who played significant roles in developing my creativity in two different ways. First, my sixth grade teacher was the worst teacher I ever had. I remember that she made me feel stupid with her condescending words. That was a year of hindering my growth. However, this experience has motivated me to always be kind to my students, and to provide a teaching environment where a child’s positive self-esteem is central. My seventh grade math teacher, on the other hand, tapped into my creativity with his jolly, funny humor. His endless puns kept me interested and amused, and I looked forward to his next class. Finally, our two sons have been instrumental in fostering my creativity and imagination. I got down on the floor and played with them as they invited me into their imagination. The spontaneous telling of bedtime stories, with twisting plots and funky characters, nourished my creativity. I am lucky to be sharing my life with my wife. Her creative soul inspires me.
An outstanding curriculum consists in sparking a student’s creative ability. In general, assignments and projects that tap into one’s imagination tend to be really fun and easy to make happen. Fourth and fifth grade students in my science class learned that wind is energy, force, and motion, in part by designing and constructing anemometers out of paper cups and straws. In addition, they shot rubber bands at targets to recognize and describe what potential and kinetic energy are. Activities that promote a child’s inventiveness can boost their sense of discovery and accomplishment. It can also enrich different sets of cognitive skills, such as audiation and re-visualization. To stimulate a student’s creative juices is a primary goal in all my lesson plans.