When we, adults, try to articulate what we notice about children’s learning experiences, it helps to have points of reference that expound the critical areas of concern and the relationships among them. For example, I have many conversations with parents and educators about how the tenets of our educational approach relate to the variations of educational philosophy children might encounter when they enter the elementary school years. In other words, we wonder how children might thrive in different contexts for learning.

Rather than trying to map what happens in one context to what happens or will happen in another context, I prefer to analyze this issue by looking at the personal capital of the person. No matter what any one context dictates, I believe that the child always makes decisions about what is meaningful and thus drives their own learning experience. No doubt, the context is important. But, the child not only responds to it; the child asserts the self so as to influence it. So, any analysis of the learning experience must include forces both internal and external to the child.

Dr. Tina Seelig is the Executive Director for the Stanford Technology Ventures Program (STVP), the entrepreneurship center at Stanford University’s School of Engineering, where creativity is viewed as essential to one’s success in this 21st century. Seelig (2012) has published what she refers to as the Innovation Engine, which describes six influences on human capacity for innovation or creativity.
The diagram for the Innovation Engine shows all influences live on a single continuous ribbon that is precisely interwoven–showing that each one has the power to influence the others. There are very compelling relationships among the influences that reside at the center of the engine as well as among the influences that reside on the outer edges. For example, knowledge provides fuel for imagination and imagination is the catalyst for the transformation of knowledge into new ideas and attitude is a spark that sets the engine in motion. Likewise, resources, habitats and culture both influence and are manifestations of local contexts. In practical terms, a deficiency in one area can explain a lack of creativity, but this can be mitigated by the abundance of another area even if one is unable to increase capital in the deficient area.

I view Seelig’s Innovation Engine as a model that helps us to discuss any aspect of children’s learning experiences and in any context because it nicely points to a succinct number of external and internal influences that we can explore. At The Willows Nursery School, we work hard to maintain a culture of innovation and curiosity, to give children access to resources that support their growth and learning, to provide a learning environment that honors children’s right to construct meaning and play. Likewise, we value and support children’s funds of knowledge, we encourage and embrace their imagination, and we try to nurture positive attitudes about the learning experience across all domains of development (physical, cognitive, social and emotional).

To parents, I say this. No matter where you enroll your child, you will want to share an appreciation for Seelig’s model because it is an empowering tool for us all–helping us to articulate how children might thrive in any context.


Seelig, T. (2012). Ingenius: A crash course on creativity. New York: HarperCollins.