Have you noticed how your little girl just loves stringing your pearls around her neck and teetering around in your stilettos? Or how together they can serve up the most delicious afternoon tea to the fairies from what’s really only a ragged piece of cardboard? This is called imaginative play or dramatic play. And it’s a fairly major developmental milestone in young children.
Imaginative play is some of the best play that children can experience. It’s the process of engaging their creativity to feed their mind and imagination. By doing this, they’re giving themselves the opportunity to experiment with decision-making and outcomes, and to identify and be amongst the adult world. Through imaginative play, children hone their social skills via communication, negotiation, and the act of sharing with others. And as a secondary to this, they’re also then practicing their language, thinking, and problem-solving skills.
Imaginative play begins to occur from the age of two onwards. Although we do know that kids tend to grow and develop at varying stages and so some may start earlier than this, whilst others may take a little longer.
You’re probably already familiar with imaginative play; you’ll often see it in the form of “pretend” play. Or when kids answer, “it’s just pretend” after you’ve attempted to stop them from feeding their dinner to the doll.
As adults, this “playing pretend” can sometimes grate on us. I know that if I’m not in the right mood, scooting around on the floor purring and meowing because Miss 5 is the ‘owner’ and I’m the ‘baby kitten’ can get old very quickly – about the time it takes for my knees to start protesting.
But whether you’re a kitten or playing moms and dads, doctors, tea party with the teddies, or simply placing an extra setting at the dinner table for the ‘friend’, it’s the process that’s important. It’s your child taking control of a situation, experimenting with cause and effect and dealing with outcomes based on decision-making. It’s the process of them trying on different roles and getting a choice at what fits best. Imaginative play is a stepping-stone along the path of their self-discovery, and can influence their wider understanding of the adult world around them.
To support and encourage imaginative play, it’s best to start simple. To foster this precious experience, it’s a great idea to dedicate a purpose area in which your kids can play. With the use of props, containers, characters and accessories, you can easily extend an invitation to play. Providing ample stimuli to feed and engage their imaginations will be all you need to start them along the pathway to creativity.
To kick-start your child’s interest in imaginative play, here are 7 ideas for offering ‘invitations to play’.
1. Set up an area in which your kids will feel comfortable playing. For example, a cozy nook with lots of cushions, blankets, and teddies would be nice and ‘homey’. To take it further, you could even invest in a children’s teepee or play house.
2. Create a play kitchen out of cardboard boxes and some plastic cups and plates for those children who love all things food. You can even purchase plastic food replicas, such as fruit and vegetables and even cooking implements.
3. Repurpose a plastic box and fill it with everything that can be used for dress ups and fancy costumes. If you’re planning on going through your closet and tidying it up, now’s the time to cast off that cheap coat you bought but never wore.
4. DIY Shadow Puppets using felt and cardboard to enact your own stories and plays.
5. Create a play area with a dolls house or other toys for the children to progress from simple play to creating more elaborate characters and storylines.
6. For outdoor play, designate a little area under the trees with some fairy lights or ribbons to set up a ‘magical woods’ theme to engage children’s sense of imagination.
7. If your children are old enough, why not leave them alone in the bath for a few extra minutes in the evening? Settle them down with some bath toys, and you’ll soon find this is the time they create their most elaborate and self-initiated imaginative play scenarios.
“I personally find that imaginative play, especially in the late afternoon and evening, is the perfect way to allow young children to wind down in the evening after a busy day!”
Hope Skinner is a professional nanny based in Sydney, Australia. Founder of Nanny Shecando, Hope works to support and promote professional nannies and sitters in the in-home childcare services industry. We encourage you to check out her blog as well!