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Imaginative Play

Updated: Mar 11, 2022

Imaginative play is not only crucial for young children's social, emotional and physical growth, but it fulfils a child's inborn need to learn. Providing your little ones with inspiring activities and stimulating environments will help develop their communication, expression and patience skills.

Nothing builds your little learner's social skills or ignites their imagination more than role play, children love to imitate and by turning your setting into a home, shop or community scene, your little ones will enjoy recreating scenes from everyday life.

Effective role play gives children the opportunity to try out risky ideas in a safe environment. It allows them to explore boundaries, make sense of the world and develop their own identities. Through pretend play, children are learning to understand the basic principles of society and how it functions, and the important rules and routines of everyday life. Imaginative play is vital because it allows children to revisit familiar and unfamiliar events, whilst also supporting the development of their imagination, through real and familiar, to complete fantasy.

Role play gives children the opportunity to:

  • Develop confidence and self-esteem

  • Show initiative

  • Express their personality

  • Develop communication and language skills

  • Cultivate friendships

  • Investigate real life situations

  • Learn cooperation and develop teamwork skills

  • Use their imagination

  • Express themselves freely

  • Develop decision making skills

Having an understanding of any patterns of child development can ensure that we give the right support.

  • From 18 to 24 months, children will be engaged in simple pretend play. Everyday activities children, such as talking on the phone or using keys, will begin to be acted out. By the age of two, children will often show signs of symbolic thinking, for example, pushing a block of wood around the floor as a car.

  • Between the ages of two and three, children’s symbolic thinking will become more complex, and they will engage in the sequential pretend play of familiar and unfamiliar events. Toys will play their part but younger toddlers need pretend objects to closely resemble the real item whereas older children don’t need the similarity and can create imaginary objects to support their play.

  • By the age of three, skills are more developed and children are fully immersed in familiar role play scenarios. Now is the time for afternoon tea parties, visiting the doctors and going to the shops.

  • Between four and five, role play is at its peak. Scenarios are more complex and play is more elaborate. Children can create scenarios with others, where they all have a different role to play, be it fantasy or reality, and verbal communication is about planning their play as well as an important communication tool. At this stage, children are beginning to collaborate and role play becomes personally, rather than object orientated.

Your child’s mind is bursting with imagination; from initiating play with themselves to involving other people in their playtime, it’s constantly creating new worlds and stories – and who wouldn’t want to encourage that?

Many children will start to explore their imagination during playtime naturally, but there’s no harm in encouraging your little ones to engage in it more often.

Give your children a reason to start imaginative play – build a den, turn a room into a doctors office, encourage them to use their imagination and see everyday objects as something that they can use in their playtime. If you have an area set out specifically dedicated to imaginative play, your children will be more likely to engage.

It’s also essential that you are exposing your children to new experiences so that they can learn how to deal with them and re-enact them during play. Take them to the supermarket and let them observe you as you shop, go for a walk with the dog around the park, take a trip to the zoo – give them opportunities to learn about new situations and how to respond and you’ll start to see them popping up during their play sessions!

Props are also important – but you don’t have to do out and buy brand new items just for imaginative playtime! You can use everyday objects from around your home and guide (or let your child decide) as to what they could potentially be used for.

Cardboard boxes can be anything you want them to be, cushions can make great steering wheels – you get the idea! However, if you do have props around your home which fit perfectly in with your child’s story, don’t be afraid to get them out and use them! Dolls prams are perfect for family roleplays – and you can be sure that teddy or dolly will be super comfy, too!

Getting involved with your child during imaginative play and taking on your own role within their story is massively beneficial to both you and your child. Having someone to interact with allows your child to react in a way in which they see fit within their made-up world. It also helps build on your relationship with your child – who doesn’t feel a sense of pride when you see just how well your little one reacts to situations during play?

So, eat that piece of invisible cake, pretend to be the dog, show interest in what your child is actually creating in their own little world – they’ll love that they can play with mum and dad, and they’ll be unknowingly improving some essential life skills, too!

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