As an early childhood educator, I would often hear, “How hard could your job possibly be? All young children do is play all day.” Although this was a gross misrepresentation of what my job entailed, I realized play is often minimized to a level of insignificance. Even in our own lives, when was the last time you just played?
Young children learn by imagining and doing. Imagination is the door to unlock so many possibilities. It is where creativity, ingenuity and thinking outside of the box begin for child development. Have you ever watched a child pick up a stick and pretend it was a spacecraft? Imaginative play is how children learn about the world.
Imaginative play is essentially when children are role-playing or acting out various scenarios they’ve seen, experienced or are of interest to them. It’s an unstructured form of play with no rules. During imaginative play, children can manipulate materials, express themselves verbally, plan, act, interact, react and try different roles. Experts believe that play has many benefits in a child’s development. In this post, I’ll cover four of the most essential.
Social and emotional development
When kids play pretend, they are actually learning how to interact in the world. They are practicing what it’s like to be someone else, which aids in the development of empathy and understanding of others. They are practicing adjusting to social cues they’ve observed and experienced. Imaginative play opportunities with others provide a safe space to develop skills such as cooperation, negotiation and collaboration. Children have to learn how to problem-solve when determining who goes first, who plays which role or what to do when someone else has the materials that you just need to have for your project. These are all things that children are learning to navigate. Imaginative play is a great place for kids to test boundaries, learn impulse control and experiment with social interactions. These are the same skills needed to be citizens of the world.
In the last post, I talked about the importance of nurturing creativity and imagination. Imaginative play enhances a child’s ability to creatively problem-solve and develops their appreciation for artistic pursuits. When kids decide to make a fort, they have to determine the type of materials they will use, how the materials will be used, and adjust to challenges that may arise. They are learning to create new things and understand various forms of art. Children are learning to visualize characters in books and movies and creating their own adventures.
There are many types of imaginative play opportunities that allow children to be active and exercise. For young children, it is particularly important they engage in activities that develop their motor skills. Children may develop gross motor skills by jumping to escape hot lava, climbing as they pretend to be an animal or leaping into their favorite superhero rescue stance. Fine motor skills come into play as children count coins for their pretend store, dress their dolls or connect the Legos when building their castle. All of these help kids regulate their movements, both big and small.
During imaginative play, kids often use advanced vocabulary to meet the needs of the scenario. It gives them an opportunity to begin experimenting with language, learning how to use words appropriately and communicating with peers. Imaginative play allows children to impersonate people in their family, other people they see or characters from TV and books. Have you ever watched your child play and heard yourself coming out of their little bodies? Yep, they’re always listening, learning, process and experimenting with how to engage in this world. It also allows them to practice listening skills and the ability to learn the nuances of words.
So, play is not just play. Children are developing so many skills that are important for them to be well-adjusted human beings. The next time your little one is ready to play, get down there with them and let your imagination run wild too.
Here are some books that show characters engaging in imaginative play:
*Click the book to learn more.*
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