It is impossible to imagine a situation where a teacher instructs students in her class to keep away school work, take some time off, and let their minds wander around – thinking about anything, everything, or nothing. The reality is quite the contrary. Teachers and school administrators often experience panic attacks when students get extra free time in their hands. Adults usually view this as a potential threat to their comfortable daily routine. Most adults believe that students become trouble-makers when allowed too much time for themselves, hence the conceptualization of the popular adage, “An empty mind is the devil’s workshop.”
Because of this belief, schools insist on tightly filling in every time slot and space that student may have to “wander around” in their minds. A typical school schedule is packed with subjects, activities, meetings, and supervised play. A careful examination of school schedule and calendar would reveal that there is little or no room for students to play the role of lighthearted-children (being who they really are) whose minds are the wellspring of creative ideas when provided with sufficient time and opportunity to engage in the natural process and act of wonderment, a quality that most individuals lose by the end of schooling.
The definition given by Oxford dictionary for the word daydreaming is, “pleasant thoughts that make you forget about the present.” This traditional characterization of the term limits our understanding about significant scientific facts about daydreaming. These facts have convinced scholars to view daydreaming differently.
According to Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, an individual’s mind is uninhibited when he or she daydreams allowing the brain to make new associations and connections – physically at neurological level and conceptually at the level of ideas creation). In other words, when people daydream and engage in abstract-make-believe thinking and imaginative wandering, there is a great potential that the act may give birth to creative ideas.
Schooler further explains that “if our minds do not wander, we would be greatly obstructed by whatever we are doing right now.” This implies the pre-occupation with mundane activities and the accompanying inability to stretch one’s creativity to the limits. Schooler’s research show that people who engage in more daydreaming score higher on experimental measures of creativity, which require people to make a set of unusual connections.
Daydreaming also yields numerous social benefits. The “what if” scenarios that we project in our minds help us to anticipate and prepare for the future and allow us to plan the course of our social-emotional actions. This is particularly important in making sound ethical and moral choices – a quality that differentiates humans from animals.
Myths about daydreaming
The following beliefs about daydreaming are not scientific and may further hinder us from harnessing its value to boosts creativity among students:
1. Daydreaming is the leading cause of traffic accidents
2. Daydreaming is a sign of laziness
3. Daydreamers lack discipline
4. Daydreamers don’t think
5. Daydreaming is a sign of procrastination
6. Daydreamers are counter-productive
7. Daydreamers are underperformers
The old but much remembered Aesop fable about the milkmaid who tossed her head, dropped the pail, and spilled the milk when she attempted to animate her daydream brings to us the moral lesson: “Do not count your chickens before they are hatched.” However, experience tells us that without such creative insights, innovation and problem-solving are impossible. Quantum Physics calls this the Law of Attraction – we draw to ourselves what we think about.
Daydreaming that results in a creative action idea surfaces when the brain makes natural connections among mental frameworks that are seemingly unrelated. Schooler’s work reveals this phenomenon to be true about daydreaming. He further adds that “daydreams involve more relaxed style of thinking, with people more willing to contemplate ideas that seem silly or far fetched.”
Implication for teaching
Deliberately providing sufficient “empty time” to engage students in daydreaming that boosts creativity is useful. In addition, students could share their daydreams through free drawing, open-ended writing, unguided reading, unprompted choreography, etc. Allocating a special period everyday for such an experience is definitely a practice in schools that are progressive and desire to produce individuals who can creatively handle the challenges of the new millennia.