When kids pretend they’re pirates or secret agents, or create their own characters using dolls or Lego figures, it seems like they’re playing simple games—literally engaging in child’s play. But what’s going on when kids use their imaginations and pretend when they play is actually very complex, and very good for kids’ development.
It’s important to understand the benefits of pretend play because that demonstrates why it’s such an important component of your child’s life. But that raises the question of how, exactly, you can encourage imaginative play. Here are some key ways imaginative play is beneficial for kids.
Read and Tell Stories
Children’s Books are excellent fodder for your child’s pretend play. Not only do they introduce him to new characters and situations, but they also teach him how a narrative is structured. It’s common for kids this age to insist on reading the same book many times in a row; they enjoy the repetition and may find it comforting. Board books are a good choice for toddlers because they won’t rip the pages as they turn.
Limit titles that talk and animated e-books, both of which fill in too many blanks. As you read, ask open-ended questions, such as “How do you think the princess is feeling now?” or ‘What do you think will happen next?”.
Your child will probably love it when you make up your own stories and, as with books, may want to hear them over and over. Try to maintain your energy and enthusiasm, since that will keep the narrative more engaging. Have your child weigh in on decisions that influence the tale, such as what the raccoon’s name should be or whether the baby bird stays in its nest or tries to fly. This lets him feel like part of the storytelling process.
Provide Your Child with a Big Box
This strategy is also shared by Parenting.com, with the article referencing how children are often given a big toy as a present—but they prefer to play with the box it came in, instead. So, get a box and put it in your home, providing your child with markers and other items to decorate the box and transform it into whatever he or she wants it to be. Perhaps, it could become a house. Or, it might become a cave—or even a time capsule. Imagination rules!
Let Your Child Dress Up
Simply provide your child with old clothes you don’t wear anymore, along with Halloween costumes stuffed in your closet. Give your child an old baton and it can, in a blink of an eye, become a magic wand.
When children dress up, the next natural step includes role playing in virtually any fantasy world that their young minds can conjure up. Perhaps three taps of the magic wand can transport them to the moon, where they might need to problem solve. After all, where does one live on a planet without cars or houses and grocery stores?
Let your child tell you a story about his or her fantasy world. Research indicates that, when parents play with children, they’re more likely to be happy and less likely to experience anxiety.
Add Stuffed Animals to the Mix
Perhaps that stuffed bear with buttons for eyes may become the pilot of the ship that brings your child safely home from the fantasy world on the moon. And, watching how your child interacts with stuffed animals will likely provide cues to what he or she is observing in relationships around him or her.
This final example of imaginative play reminds us that, if we fill every free hour of a child’s life with structured activities, then we aren’t promoting creativity. So, include time for pretend play, both indoors and out, so your child can also “kick up leaves, stare at the clouds, and run around the playground.”