The current generation of children will never know a time without the internet, on demand TV, or smartphones and tablets. These types of entertainment aren’t inherently bad, but they don’t offer the same benefits as imaginative play. Imaginative play helps develop a child’s sense of curiosity and adventure. So, how can we encourage our children to explore their imaginations?
What is imaginative play?
Imaginative play is just a fancy way of saying make believe. It’s the type of pretend play that children have done for generations.
The importance of imaginative play
Imaginative play has many benefits for children’s developing brains.
It promotes language skills such as using future and past tense as well as “theory of mind” which is an awareness that each person has their own thoughts and perspectives.
It also encourages creativity, problem solving, exploration, and expressing feelings.
How to encourage imaginative play
Encouraging imaginative play in your home is easy and inexpensive. Here are some suggestions for getting your child interested in playing pretend.
- Limit screen time
Screen time is good in moderation, but for imaginative play, it’s better to let your child become a little bored so they can create a world of their own. Devices allow them to plug in and enter the imagination of someone else, but quiet time allows their own creativity to bloom.
- Talk to children about social interactions and human nature
Talking to children about people’s interactions gives them material for their play. In a lot of ways, small children are like aliens from another planet. They don’t know the “rules” of society or why people interact the way they do until someone explains it to them. Keeping the conversation at an age appropriate level can spark your child’s imagination without overwhelming or upsetting them.
- Tell stories and read books
Children like to act out scenarios that they’ve experienced or heard about. This is why children enjoy acting out the plots of movies or TV shows. These are both great ways to introduce stories to children, but the original creativity boosters are books! When a child is read a book or listens to a story, they picture what is happening in their minds. Later on, they can take the story, add their twist to it and act it out.
- Set up stations around your house that allow for free play
Buying and setting up toys that are imagination enhancers will lead to more pretend play. When you go to a children’s museum, you’ll see many displays geared towards imaginative play. For example, in our local children’s museum, there’s a grocery store, dollhouse, mechanic shop, and veterinarian’s office. In my house, we have numerous dollhouse structures, Lil Woodzeez houses, shopping carts and plastic food items, and an art desk with paper and washable crayons. These stations are ‘no-tech’ so my daughter has to create the fun.
- Go on nature walks
Getting outdoors and exploring nature can inspire some serious creativity! There are many things in nature like sticks, leaves, pine cones and rocks that can be used for pretend play. Even exploring your own backyard or neighborhood can be an adventure.
- Offer unconventional “toys” like boxes and paper towel rolls
Whenever we get a large box, we always allow my daughter to play with it for a few weeks. She usually colors all over it, says it’s a spaceship and spends a few hours packing it up for her trip to Mars. You can encourage your child to imagine what the box could be. Ask them where it would take them, how they would like it to look, and what it could do. You don’t have to do much coaxing, kids seem to inherently come up with a million ways to use an empty box. We recently read a great story about imaginative play with boxes called The Big Brown Box by Marisabina Russo.
- Engage your child in telling stories or asking questions
One of my favorite things to do is ask my daughter what’s going on with various toys that she’s set up throughout the house. The older she gets, the more elaborate her descriptions and stories. Often her animals are doing things that she is familiar with. They have swimming lessons or go to visit their Mimi and Pawpaw. The more you engage your child’s imagination and ask questions, the more complicated and interesting their play will become.
- Allow for unstructured time in your day
If your child is on a strict schedule, there isn’t much time to explore and imagine. Allowing for some time to decompress and dream is important for both kids and parents! Allowing your child to have space and time to express themselves will also have the added benefit of teaching them to be self-sufficient and comfortable spending time alone.
- Participate in the imaginative play
One of the best things you can do to help encourage imaginative play is to participate in it yourself and be excited about it! Children love to spend quality time with their parents and playing pretend is a great way to bond with your child and show interest in the way their mind works. Every time I play pretend with my daughter, I spend most of the time laughing because she comes up with the funniest stuff. I love seeing her express her creativity and enjoy herself.
In our tech-centered world, imaginative play sometimes takes a backseat. However, the many benefits are fantastic for a child’s developing mind. Imaginative play is easy to encourage and fun to participate in! Encourage your child to play pretend and dream and they just might change the world someday.