‘There is no activity for which young children are better prepared than fantasy play. Nothing is more dependable and risk-free, and the dangers are only pretend’ (Paley, 2004, p.6).
We as adults can often under value imaginative play. Imaginative play is essentially when children are role playing and are acting out various experiences they may have had or something that is of some interest to them. They are experimenting with decision making on how to behave and are also practicing their social skills. This kind of play is a child’s way of engaging and making sense of the world.
How Imaginative Play Helps Children Learn
To imagine and pretend are important in child development.
Through Imaginative play, children learn about themselves and the world. Dramatic play experiences are some of the first ways children learn about their likes and dislikes, their interests, and their abilities.
Imaginative play enables children to work out confusing, scary, or new life issues. Have you ever witnessed children pretending to visit the doctor or pretending to be a doctor? One child pretends to be a doctor, while the others line up for a check-up. More often than not someone gets ‘shots’. This is a child’s way of exploring an experience that is common and sometimes confusing or scary. Through these role plays, children become more comfortable and prepared for life events in a safe way. Children often use imaginative play to work out more personal challenging life events too, whether it is coping with an illness in the family, the absence of a parent or a divorce.
Through Imaginative play, children develop important complex social and higher order thinking skills. Pretend play is much more than simple play activities; it requires advanced thinking strategies, communication, and social skills. Through pretend play, children learn to do things like negotiate, consider others’ perspectives, develop a plan and act on it, express and listen to thoughts and ideas and assign tasks and roles.
Through Imaginative play, children cultivate social and emotional intelligence. How we interact with others is key to our lifelong success and happiness. There is no substitute for creative and imaginative play when it comes to teaching and enhancing these abilities in children.
Imaginative play encourages imagination. Children can be anyone and do anything in the pretend world.
Through Imaginative play, children develop language skills such as practicing listening, looking and talking. Being spoken to and talking with other people, also developing an understanding of what is being communicated through body language such as smiles and nodding.
HOW CAN YOU AS A PARENT (OR TEACHER) ENCOURAGE IMAGINATIVE PLAY?
- Provide children with a space in your home/class for imaginative play.
- Provide a dress ups box full of clothes, scarves, hats, handbags, shoes and wigs. Dress ups are irresistible to young children to spark the imagination.
- Consider creating a props box filled with toys, objects and props to encourage the child’s fantasy world. Most of these may be things such as cardboard boxes, cardboard tubes etc. lying around the house.
- Play with your child. Children love to play with their parents! Show an interest in what they are doing as this helps to develop the story and encourage the imagination but let your child be in charge.
- Arrange play dates with children of a similar age so they can support each other’s imaginative play.
- Read to children. Reading to your children will expose them to different scenarios, stories and experiences.
- Taking your children to many interesting places such as the zoo is also another way of exploring new experiences. This does happen naturally anyway, such as visiting the doctor and the supermarket. These will provide them with more experiences and more ideas for their imaginative play.