Have you ever seen a young child open a larger present — and then toss the gift aside to play inside the box? The box may become a race car or spaceship, or something else entirely. No matter the specifics, that child is engaging in imaginative play, and the process of pretending is both essential and more complex than it may look on the surface.
Here are four benefits of imaginative play.
Social and Emotional Skills Development
Scholastic.com notes how, when a child pretends during playtime, he or she is “actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life . . . [and] has the experience of ‘walking in someone else’s shoes,’ which helps teach the important moral development skill of empathy.” This helps your child to expand from a world in which he or she always plays center stage to one where engagement with others occurs.
Pretend play allows your child to experiment with and begin to understand the power of language. Children often use the words and phrases they hear their parents and/or teachers say as they imitate others during imaginative play. Plus, when your child engages in imaginative play, he or she is creating or re-enacting a story, making valuable connections between spoken and written language.
Thinking Skills Development
Your child solves problems as he or she plays, perhaps by drawing on a box to make it look more like a spaceship or figuring out how another child can join in the fun.
Development of Symbolic Thinking
Parents.com shares how pretend play helps your child understand the importance of symbols, a core skill that allows your child to discover that letters stand for sounds, numbers for amounts. This is how he or she learns about the concepts of language and math, overall. To grown-ups, “a block is just a block, but put it in your toddler's hands and it becomes anything from a sandwich to a cruise ship.” This is an essential step in learning symbolic thinking.
Encouraging Imaginative Play
Provide your child with safe, fun and simple toys and props. These can range from old sheets to pots and pans — and, of course, the simple cardboard box! When you provide your child with something too specific, such as a toy train, he or she won’t need to use as much creativity to play with the toy. So, instead, provide more simple objects that can be used in multiple ways.
It isn’t unusual to discover that your youngster is playing with an invisible friend – and it’s nothing to worry about. This is how some children discover how to develop the skills necessary to get along with other children, and these pliant friends can provide your child with support as he or she deals with challenging situations. It’s also okay to play along with the idea that your toddler has an invisible friend, perhaps sitting down to tea together. The invisible-friend stage is a transition stage, not an indication that your child doesn’t understand reality.
Another article by Parents.com suggests a great idea to encourage pretend play: providing your child with dress-up clothes. Simply fill up a box or bin with fun items, such as silly hats, old purses, masks, shawls and so forth. Then, let your child’s imagination take over! One child created a Batman costume that “consisted of frog design mud boots, gray sweatpants, a T-shirt, a brown woven belt with a Crown Royal bag tied around it, and a red winter hat.” To that, we say, why not!