Imaginative play is an important part of childhood. Not only is it fun for children but it is also an essential part of learning and developing. Children learn about themselves, about their world, and lay the groundwork for their future through imaginative play. Yet too many children are not encouraged to use their imagination through play. There are three essential ways you can encourage imaginative play in your child — by providing the place, the time, and the supplies.
Does your child have a place for imaginative play? Is there somewhere, even the corner of a room, where they can build a block city or shape play dough monsters? Can they assemble all their stuffed animals into a school or all their cars into a parade? While children should be encouraged to pick up after themselves sometimes it takes a while to build the city of their dreams and they want time to play with it again. Try to strike a balance between your need for order and their need for imaginative play. Give them a day or so to create a complex setting for their imaginative play before forcing them to put away their toys.
Does your child have the time for imaginative play? It is amazing how many young children have a very full schedule. While many of these activities are likely required, such as school or day care, and many are also desirable, such as sports or clubs, it is also important that children be given the opportunity for free, unstructured play that allows the opportunity for imaginative play. It is not desirable that every moment of every day be structured and planned. Children who are not given the opportunity to exercise their imagination run the risk of losing the ability to use it at all.
Does your child have the supplies for imaginative play? As we know from our own childhood that imaginative play does not require extensive and elaborate supplies, but children do need access to objects they can use. A complex wardrobe is not necessary but a few items can be helpful. A bath towel might be a king’s robe or a super hero’s cape or swaddling for a baby. A cardboard tube from wrapping paper might be a sword, the container for a secret map, or a spyglass. A cardboard box might be everything from a treasure chest to a race car. Provide a few basic supplies and try not to be too suggestive in their use. Children will do better if allowed to give their imagination free rein without your interference and control.
Imaginative play can be a wonderful opportunity for your child to not only enjoy their childhood but also to learn and grow as people by trying on different roles such as parents, cooks, police officers, and firefighters but also to experience safe adventures as pirates, explorers and paleontologists. Imaginative play should be encouraged in children by allowing them the place, the time, and the supplies for imaginative play.
By Deanna Mascle - Researcher, Teacher and Writer