We all know play is a crucial part of childhood, but did you know that imaginative play enables your child’s social and emotional development? Here’s why imaginative play for children is so important:
Children and Imagination
Imagination is essential to a child’s development: the ability to form new ideas, images or concepts without needing to see or sense something enhances a child’s ability for creativity and resourcefulness.
Even prominent and inspirational scientists such as Einstein understood the importance of imagination for children:
“Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution”.
So, why is imaginative play so central to a child’s cognitive and social development, and what can you do to encourage it?
Why is imaginative play important?
One of the reasons imagination is so important is that it helps children to understand the world around them. Imaginative play allows children to express themselves verbally and physically, act, react and interact, and try out different roles and scenarios within safe boundaries of their own making.
Imaginative role play – for example, playing a ‘post office game’ whereby children use stationery, furniture and other props to recreate an imaginary post office – allows children to make up addresses, stamp, weigh and measure pretend parcels, deliver packages to far-flung countries and script imaginary conversations with various characters.
Role play like this is so beneficial to a child’s development because it helps them to process what they’ve seen and experienced in the world so far. It allows them to push the boundaries further and imagine what the consequences of doing things differently might be – all in a way that’s safe, controlled and completely dictated by the limits of their imagination.
Also, imaginative play is so important because it enables social and emotional development, helping children to contemplate a variety of confrontations and resolutions.
This boosts their confidence when real world conflict occurs, and could make them more successful navigating social situations in school, within their families, friendships and relationships, and as adults in the workplace.
How can you help to encourage imaginative play?
#1. Provide them with a few essential props
If you want to encourage imaginative play in children, pose scenarios and situations for children, as well as providing then with a few essential props.
For instance, you can buy stationery for role play involving post offices, school rooms, libraries and a number of other situations. Stationery is also very useful if you want to use arts and crafts as a way of boosting imagination and creativity.
#2. Encourage creativity
Equip children with pens, paper, coloured pencils and other key pieces of stationery suitable for their age and ability and encourage them to create artwork based on imagination rather than asking them to draw something they can actually see.
#3. Encourage reading and making up stories
You can also foster a child’s imagination by reading with them and encouraging them to make up stories of their own.
Reading regularly and widely provides children’s brains with stimulation and information outside of what they’ve directly experienced, and helps them to empathise and understand places, people and problems within and beyond their own environment.
You can stimulate their imagination and help them to develop by asking them to suggest alternative endings to stories you’re reading.
Alternatively, you could make up brand new stories with your child, casting them in the role of the main character or in a supporting role. Pepper the story with choices, moral dilemmas and ask thought provoking questions to continue the imaginative play such as “what would happen if…?”.
#5. Use outside opportunities to capture imagination
When you’re outside of the house, visit a museum or gallery to see what captures your child’s attention and ask them open-ended questions about what they’re looking at.
Even a visit to the supermarket, a walk in the countryside or a long car journey can be an opportunity for imaginative play. Ask your child to describe what they are seeing and make up some fun stories as you go too.
Over to you now. What tips do you have for encouraging imaginative play in children? Share them with us in the comments below.