The Importance of Imaginative Play in Children’s Development
Did you ever use a hairbrush to pretend you were singing into a microphone? This is known as imaginative or pretend play, using one object to stand in for another. Your children can begin to use the rudiments of this play as early as 12 to 18 months, progressing from self-pretend all the way to role-playing with other children, which usually occurs between ages four and five.
Pretend play helps children to develop important social-emotional skills like problem-solving, creativity, and cooperation. Who knew that playtime could prepare children for life?
How Children Learn Through Play
Pretend play is important to a child’s development of language, imagination, social skills, and more. Here’s a look at how children learn through pretend play.
- Symbolic play is practice. It lays the foundation for children to learn to speak and act.
- Pretending exposes them to new vocabulary. It opens the doors to learning new words that they might not hear otherwise, such as “elf” or “fairy.” Children also learn the connection between words and actions, which helps when they begin to learn to read.
- Play encourages cooperation. By participating in pretend, children learn how to play and pretend with other children, and eventually learn to share and take turns.
- Play teaches empathy. Children learn to stretch their imaginations and be someone else, which helps them empathize and see things from someone else’s perspective.
Along with all of these benefits, playing is fun. It gives you more opportunities to interact with your child and develop parent-child bonds.
Ideas to Encourage Pretend Play
You can foster imaginative play in many ways by not defining toys, spaces and activities. Let children fill in the blanks, even if they can’t fully express their thoughts or actions yet.
As important as it is for children to be creative, join the action! Have fun playing together, allowing them to guide the direction of play. If you can, set aside a dedicated space in your house where children can play.
Here are some simple toys and activities to help your children engage in pretend play.
- Art supplies. Keep art supplies like crayons and paper on hand. Art is a great medium for children to express their imaginations!
- Puppets. You can purchase puppets, or you can make your own with items you already have lying around the house, like oven mitts, flashlights, and whatever else your children can think of!
- Story time. Make story time interactive! Rather than reading a book, mix it up and act out your children’s favorite story instead. Don’t limit story time to just books! Let your children draw from recent experiences, which are great for pretend play.
- Objects from nature. Collect things from nature, such as a small rock, flower or twig. Help your children create a story about the objects as he or she draws them from the bag.
- A box of fun. You don’t have to purchase imaginative play toys for little ones to benefit. Large boxes lend themselves to all types of pretend play. It could be a spaceship, car or cave. You can find large boxes at moving-supply stores or pick up free ones from an appliance outlet.
The best part of pretend play is that it’s all about creativity and imagination! While it’s great to have a few activities to reference, don’t feel limited to these ideas. Chances are, your children will have their own ideas for pretend play!
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