Our children need us to remind them that their own unique and imaginative play is something to be treasured and I think it is important to start with the why. Why is imaginative (fantasy) play so important in the lives of our children?
Imaginative play builds developmental skills such as social and emotional skills that are needed for everyday life. When our children are actively engaged in imaginative play, they are unconsciously experimenting with the social and emotional roles that they will one day experience in everyday life.
What are the benefits of imaginative play?
- Imaginative play helps children identify more clearly between what is real and what is pretend. When a child takes on a role they are learning how to interact and engage, which is vital for their development and helps them to learn empathy by role-playing.
- The development of language; children are better able to express themselves through dramatic play. They speak more freely and these “conversations” not only boost their self-confidence but also create an awareness of the language that is being used around them.
- A reprieve from emotional stress; picture yourself in a counsellors office, going over what is “plaguing” you. It’s the same for children. They tend to replay their experiences in their play. Getting that much needed emotional relief.
- Builds their confidence; by reliving their daily experiences, some which might be frightening to them, they play in a way where they are the hero’s, the vindicators. Here they can control their environment which in turn builds their self-esteem.
- Problem-solving; children need to make many decisions when engrossed in imaginative play, from which character they should be, to what outfit should be worn, choosing the props and the scenario.
- Memory skills; it’s a tough job remembering all that goes on in their environment, but somehow they manage to recall fairy tales, nursery rhymes and peoples behaviour, all whilst stimulating their memory bank.
And lastly, how can we encourage imaginative play?
- Embrace the chaos; yes, you heard that right. Imaginative play can be calming but it can also be chaotic! We tend to get overwhelmed with the mess and noise at times, well, set aside some time to just let it be. You should have seen my house this weekend, we had beds turned into fortresses and the treehouse turned into a restaurant. It was chaotic, loud and messy, but hey, life is far too short to sweat the small stuff.
- Open-ended toys; are toys that can be played with, in any way, shape and form. They encourage creativity and free-thinking. Like blocks, lego and stuffed animals.
- Allowing our children to be bored; yes, I just said that. Boredom is the best way to get our children’s creative juices flowing. When they say, “I don’t know what to do” or “I have nothing to play with”. Go grab some teddies and a tea set, or a bunch of your old clothes and shoes, animals and a bucket of mud, and then say, play.
- Read – this is something that I don’t always do. I will be honest and admit it, but it’s also an area of growth for me, and I’m trying. But the more we read to our children about princesses and knights, mysteries and adventure, we activate that creative mindset that allows them to think out the box.
- Let them be kids; we live in a fast-paced world, we ourselves battle to take time out. However, we need to teach our children how to switch off. We don’t need to have our afternoons filled with extra-mural activities, our weekend’s jam-packed with events. Take some time out and just let them play.
- Never tell them they are too old to play. My eldest is 9 and he loves playing in the garden with is wild animals, a friends daughter is also 9 and she is still so in love with her dolls, and that’s ok.
It is a happy talent to know how to play – Ralph Waldo Emerson
This article was previously published on Parenty