Have you ever had that moment where you’ve spent ages looking for a present for a child and when they open it they’re more interested in the box than the toy inside? Good! Your child’s engagement in imaginative play is something that is going to help them learn skills and emotional maturity in a way that nothing else can. Play is all about exploration, imagination, spontaneity, discovery and creativity. It is a lifelong skill that builds and satisfies curiosity, broadens the way that your kids think and reduces stress. “Imaginative play fosters creativity and helps children explore the world,” says child psychologist David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play “Children sometimes feel weak in comparison to adults, but when they engage in it they take the role of adults and heroes.”
Communication – Imaginative play provides children with opportunities to develop speech and language abilities while practicing listening. Whether they’re playing with a friends/ sibling or by themselves children talk and listen while playing.
Relationships – Imaginative play also promotes social skills, interaction and competence. Through their play experiences children learn (whether they’re playing with their parents or their friends) how relationships work. Harvard developmental psychologist Paul Harris, PhD writes in his book The Work of the Imagination that “Children’s role-play suggests that they can enact what people might do in a given situation by a process of simulation: They imagine themselves in that same situation and act vis-à-vis that imaginary situation,” he writes in his book. “For example, when pretending to be Mother, the child pretends to be confronted by a crying baby, and ministers to it accordingly.”
Cognitive Development – It is astounding how much imaginative play can help the brain to develop in more functional and positive ways. Children who play this way have a more sophisticated level of interaction with others and with their environment. According to Justin Coulson Ph.D (a relationships and parenting expert) the research shows that those who played imaginary games with their parents had “greater levels of imagination and cognitive ability” compared to those who didn’t. They also experienced a more secure attachment to their parents and enjoyed more positive development while engaging in other activities and experienced positive school engagement. These all lead to positive mental health, stronger friendship networks and greater family closeness.
That’s why after hearing about all these amazing ways imaginative play can promote children’s well-being we’ve teamed up with Kidzania in Westfield to make sure you have access to this one of a kind play area that is specifically designed to foster your child’s imaginative play. Their 75,000sq.ft child-sized city uses a “unique blend of education and fun – lets children explore new concepts, try new things, problem solve, and work together as a team.” Here your kids can be a pilot, a fire-fighter or the next award-winning singer. Each role-play experience is crafted to teach kids essential like skills including financial literacy, team work and independence.
Or if you’re looking for ways to engage your child in imaginative play in the home then there are a million simple ways to get their imagination running wild. We’ve found that the easiest way is to have a few props for them to start with.
- As we’ve already said boxes are awesome. No really! A box (depending on its size) can be a car, a shop, a house, a rocket ship, a boat or even a TARDIS, there are so many ways a simple bit of cardboard can become the best toy in the world. Just like in the children’s book Not a Box by Antoinette Portis (btw a great way to introduce little-ones to pretend-play possibilities) all you’ll start to hear from your kids when they’re playing is “it’s not a box! It’s a…”
- Old clothes, hats, scarves etc. Making a small dress up box of things you don’t use anymore will mean a thousand different roles that your child can play. There will be adventures galore as they go from a mysterious fortune-teller to a spy with just a quick costume change.
- Old telephone. We don’t need to tell you how much kids love to make pretend telephone calls so give them a “phone of their own” by letting them play with old mobiles.
- Cooking utensils, plastic dishes etc. – From playing house, to tea parties, to chef there are so many things your kid can get up to with any (safe) kitchen things you don’t use. In fact tea parties apparently “allow children to rehearse the roles of adulthood and learn to take the perspective of the other,” says Roberta Golinkoff, Ph.D., author of A Mandate for Playful Learning in Preschool: Presenting the Evidence.“You can set the table with the child, which is a good way to teach mathematics, as the child must use one-to-one correspondence to put out one cup and one spoon for all at the table. And your child can make up the characters in attendance and practice playing roles.”
- Stuffed animals – A great way to occupy kids when you need them to engage in some solo play they will happily chat with their toys. Golinkoff says that “The talk that kids engage in during make-believe is directly correlated with how much language kids have a few years later,” she notes
- Blankets/ Spare fabric– Just like a box a bit of fabric can be anything to a child, it could be an invisibility cloak, a tail, a baby blanket or a superheroes cape. Their play-friendly texture and movement mean that there is nothing they can’t imagine with the help of a blanket. We also have it on pretty good authority that blankets make the best forts.
- Writing and Art Materials – Art is also one of the best ways to engage your child in imaginative play. Colours, textures, a blank slate for creative expression—what’s not to love? You draw and colour with your child, and gradually, they’ll try to copy you. It will keep your children engaged, develop motor skills and get that imagination going.