Childhood Studies Young Children’s Imagination
Kym Stewart, Annabella Cant
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0222


The following bibliography offers readers a glimpse into the breadth of research on young children and imagination and its impact on culture, research, and education practice. The writings are organized into seven sections: the Intertwining of Imagination and Creativity: A Symbiotic Relationship, Children and Imagination, Teacher Education: Strategies, Lessons, and Practice, Kieran Egan and the Theory of Imaginative Education, Imaginative Education Publications, Journals, and Handbooks. In many disciplines, the ideas of imagination and creativity have been conflated. This bibliography offers some key readings to help distinguish these two terms, while also confirming their interconnectedness. This complexity of definitions and usage of terms is more fully explored in the next section, which presents a variety of research projects looking closely at the role of imagination in early learning, play, and creative endeavors. The importance of imagination for young children’s development is further explored in the teacher-training section, where scholars, researchers, and educators share practical and theoretical suggestion for in-service teachers and current practicing teachers. This focus on education is deepened in the following two sections, focusing on a particular educational philosopher, Kieran Egan, and his educational theory, Imaginative Education—one of the most well-known educational theories. Following the major works about the theory of Imaginative Education written by its designer and creator, Kieran Egan, the bibliography collates articles that directly engage with the theory, in practical and theoretical settings, from early childhood to postsecondary education. Finally, the last two sections offer the reader a list of journals and handbooks about children’s thinking, education, and imagination.

The Intertwining of Imagination and Creativity: A Symbiotic Relationship

The concepts of imagination and creativity have often been used interchangeably in pedagogical, psychological, and philosophical literature. The following readings were selected to highlight the differentiation of these two concepts, as well as the role of these concepts within the educational context. Most of the readings focus on children’s early learning; however, the pivotal importance that creativity and imagination play in learning can be seen at all levels of education. Although these two concepts are distinct, they are also carefully interrelated. For example, in Tsai 2012 and Egan, et al. 2015 we see how the imagination is depicted as being part of the creative process. The entanglements between the two concepts are also represented in the studies Finke 1996 and Pendleton-Jullian and Brown 2016. This interrelation is examined via the activity of play in Aljarrah 2017; Holmes, et al. 2019; and Nilsson, et al. 2018 as an integral part of learning and a context for imaginative thinking—and thus creativity. Dillon 2018 offers a practical example of children’s creativity at play, and Paul and Kaufman 2017 takes a philosophical approach to the two concepts. The overall message of the readings in this section is that both imagination and creativity must be part of curricula, and playful learning is legitimate at all levels of education.

  • Aljarrah, Ayman. “Play as a Manifestation of Children’s Imagination and Creativity.” Journal for the Education of Gifted Young Scientists 5.1 (2017): 25–38.

    DOI: 10.17478/jegys.2017.52

    This article, along with a literature review, focuses on the value of play in teaching and learning. The author emphasizes the fact that play is a clear trigger for the manifestation and nurturing of imagination and creativity. This paper also engages with the interrelatedness of creativity, imagination, and play.

  • Dillon, Anna. “Finding Innovation and Imagination in a Bag of Loose Parts.” Childhood Education 94.1 (2018): 62–65.

    DOI: 10.1080/00094056.2018.1420369

    This short article describes a few moments in time when children engage with a bag of “loose parts.” The author suggests that simple items can stimulate children’s imagination, innovative thinking, and the desire to explore and discover.

  • Egan, Kieran, Gillian Judson, and Krystina Madej. Engaging Imagination and Developing Creativity in Education. Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars, 2015.

    The book demonstrates, through a number of invited chapters, that imagination is a vital part of creativity. The authors note the discrepancy between the world of today, which is in need of creative innovation, and schooling systems that do not offer imagination an honorable place in the curriculum.

  • Finke, Ronald A. “Imagery, Creativity, and Emergent Structure.” Consciousness and Cognition 5.3 (1996): 381–393.

    DOI: 10.1006/ccog.1996.0024

    The article begins with a short literature review on creative thinking and imagination studies, continuing with an analysis of the distinctions and correlations between aspects of controlled creative imagery and aspects of it when this control is not present—a process that creates unanticipated structures in imagined forms.

  • Gaut, Berys Nigel, and Paisley Livingston, eds. The Creation of Art: New Essays in Philosophical Aesthetics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    This book describes the links between imagination and creativity by describing each in detail. The authors—a group of distinguished thinkers—consider the analysis of imagination as a more difficult process due to its slipperiness. A relevant distinction is made between imagination and imaginings.

  • Holmes, Robyn M., Brianna Gardner, Kristen Kohm, et al. “The Relationship between Young Children’s Language Abilities, Creativity, Play, and Storytelling.” Early Child Development and Care 189.2 (2019): 244–254.

    DOI: 10.1080/03004430.2017.1314274

    This study investigates the relationship between children’s social play, storytelling, language abilities, and imagination. The results show a positive relationship between play and creativity, storytelling and language abilities, and language and creativity.

  • Nilsson, Monica, Beth Ferholt, and Robert Lecusay. “‘The Playing-Exploring Child’: Reconceptualizing the Relationship between Play and Learning in Early Childhood Education.” Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood 19.3 (2018): 231–245.

    DOI: 10.1177/1463949117710800

    This article problematizes the dichotomy between play and learning through a reconceptualization of early childhood education as not an informal process but an outcome of play and exploration. The authors drive the arguments back to Vygotsky’s theory on play, imagination, realistic thinking, and creativity.

  • Paul, Elliot Samuel, and Scott Barry Kaufman. The Philosophy of Creativity: New Essays. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    The essays in the book bring to the surface some straightforward questions about the role of creativity and imagination in life. The philosophical lens allows the reader to get a new kind of perspective on this discussion.

  • Pendleton-Jullian, Ann M., and John Seely Brown. Pragmatic Imagination: Single from Design Unbound. San Francisco: Blurb, 2016.

    The small book unpacks aspects of a pragmatic and productive imagination that should be part of the agency of all humans. In the view of the authors, the entanglement of imagination and action marks one of the delimitations between creativity and imagination.

  • Tsai, Kuan Chen. “Play, Imagination, and Creativity: A Brief Literature Review.” Journal of Education and Learning 1.2 (2012).

    DOI: 10.5539/jel.v1n2p15

    The review engages with the concepts of play, imagination, and creativity, with the purpose of demonstrating their pivotal role in learning for students. Creativity is depicted as a result of an active imagination.

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