Today, we’ll be exploring the benefits of imaginative play, and revealing ways of encouraging your child to engage their more creative side.
What is Imaginative Play?
Imaginative play, or ‘pretend play’ as it’s sometimes known, is a type of play driven by the imagination, with children role-playing things that they’ve seen or heard, or simply imagining scenarios that they’re interested in.
There’s no limit to what can be considered imaginative play. It can occur entirely in the mind, or it can be acted out, sometimes with the aid of props and costumes.
As adults, it can be easy to forget the value of this style of play, even though it lies at the very heart of childhood learning and development. From pretending to manage their own shop to battling a dragon in the heart of a mountain, imaginative play helps children navigate and comprehend the complexity of everyday life, while strengthening life skills, boosting overall brain function, and fostering creativity.
Why is Imaginative Play so Important to your Child’s Development?
Occupational therapist, Tracey Ellis, lists a number of ways in which imaginative play can be important to a child’s development. This includes offering opportunities to think from another person’s perspective, improving social skills and self-regulation, strengthening problem-solving, and even boosting hand-eye coordination – particularly when play is paired with toys.
While imaginative play may not be the only avenue for learning, most children have an instinctive love for playing pretend. This makes it one of the more enjoyable and natural ways for a child to learn and grow. You may be able to boost the benefits of playtime with guided imaginative play that explores pro-social themes, empathy, negotiation, cooperation, and more.
The Benefits of Imaginative Play
Pretend play allows children to explore scenarios and solve problems that they may not have otherwise encountered in their daily life. Whether playing alone, with peers, or with a parent, open-ended imaginative play offers a whole host of cognitive, physical, and social benefits.
Here are just some of the key benefits of imaginative play.
Playing together is one of the most effective relationship-building tools for a child. Helping foster friendships, build trust, and improve cooperative skills, play establishes a bond in which children can feel safe and connected with their friends.
Play can also strengthen a child’s bond with their parent or guardian, improving communication while creating a safe, stable and healthy relationship. Making a conscious effort to incorporate humour and play into your everyday interactions can also help break down some of the traditional barriers that form between parents and their children, allowing you to forge a relationship based on fun.
Foster Creativity and Develop Problem Solving Skills
At its very core, pretend play is a creative process based on a child’s ability to visualise and imagine. Like any muscle in the body, the imagination can be strengthened with a regular workout. Faced with scenarios and problems they may not experience in day-to-day life, playing pretend relies heavily on a child’s ability to dream up situations, and resolve challenges creatively.
Improve Social Skills
Through the act of playing with other children, kids are often forced into situations that require social skills such as negotiation, turn-taking, and even conflict resolution.
As they interact and explore imaginary situations with their peers, your child will likely be presented with opportunities to experiment with social boundaries, and discover what behaviours may or may not be acceptable around others. Such play can also help kids better learn to share, cooperate, and listen to one another’s ideas, while helping them grow more confident in social situations.
Strengthen Language Skills
Have you ever noticed that when a child is role-playing – even on their own – they often describe and narrate the situation as they go through it?
Pretend play relies heavily on communication. This can help children improve their ability to describe and communicate their ideas, strengthening their language skills in the process.
During imaginative play, children will explore their own ideas, create their own stories, and establish their own rules. This can help kids become more confident in their own creativity while becoming less reliant on instruction and validation from others, promoting better self-esteem and encouraging greater independence.
Build Empathy and Nurture Emotional Skills
Imaginative play allows children to walk in other people’s shoes, share perspectives, learn how to read emotions, and respond to the feelings of others. This, in turn, can help kids recognise and process their own feelings as well.
Pretend play can also help build empathy. For example, if your child adopts a caring role, such as pretending to be a doctor, it can help them understand the need to be gentle and kind to their ‘patient’.
Enhance Physical Development
Many forms of imaginative play also incorporate other elements, such as toys, props, or physical activity. Manipulating toys or dressing up strengthens fine motor skills, while running, jumping, and climbing can help develop muscles, improve bone strength, and even help kids understand their physical limitations.
What Are Examples of Imaginative Play?
When it comes to pretend play, not even the sky’s the limit to the number of scenarios your child can dream up. Here are some examples of imaginative play to inspire your next play session.
Throw a Tea Party
Tea parties are great for strengthening interpersonal skills, language development, and communication. With little more than a table or picnic rug, and a couple of plastic cakes and teacups, your child will be able to conduct entire conversations using their favourite toys.
Stomping around and giving an almighty roar, pretending to be a dinosaur, is perfect for children who like to stay active during play. Your child will love pretending to be a dinosaur with their friends, or you can hold up your own little ‘T-rex’ arms and get in on the fun yourself.
Playing dinosaurs isn’t just excellent for physical health, it can also help children deal with stressful situations as they imagine themselves being chased down by a prehistoric predator.
Build a World
Encourage your child to dream up their very own city, forest, or house and then let them bring it to life with building blocks! Creating a scene out of blocks not only stretches the imagination, it also engages fine motor skills while helping kids explore concepts such as gravity and balance.
Blast Off Into Space
Let your kids explore the wonders of the universe from the comfort of home by transforming an old box into a spaceship, or creating your very own helmets out of tinfoil. By pretending to explore space, your child will be able to imagine alien creatures, dream up distant planets, and solve problems and scenarios that are truly out of this world.
How Do I Encourage My Child to Play Imaginatively?
Worried that your child isn’t engaging in enough imaginative play at home? There are plenty of ways you can help encourage them.
If your child doesn’t quite know how to play pretend yet, they may need a little help. With the aid of toys and perhaps a demonstration, your child will be engaging in imaginative play in no time. Perhaps start by taking up a plastic teacup and pretending to drink, or pushing a toy train while making ‘choo choo’ noises. You can then pass the toy to your child and see if they copy your actions.
Once your child is a little more confident in their creativity, we recommend keeping a box filled with all sorts of toys to spark their creativity without needing to be prompted. Be sure to provide toys that are relevant to your child’s interests to keep them motivated to play.Looking for inspiration? Check out our Imaginative Play Toys to help fill your child’s toy box with props and tools that inspire imaginative play.