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The Importance of Imaginative Play

Play is how young children explore, communicate, and learn about the world. So much of the time, we adults insist that children learn our ways of the world, but what would happen if we learned more about their ways? If we see free play as important, how can we help encourage playful activities throughout our daily lives?

So what is imaginative play? Imaginative play is when young children engage in role-play or pretend. It’s a little different than when kids participate in organized sports, board games, or other structured activities. It’s also different from structured arts and crafts activities. Children can add imagination into any activity, of course, but imaginative play usually refers to children engaging in pretend or role-play. Children may also engage in a “small world” version of pretend with miniature figures (like Legos, a doll house, or kins.

When children imagine, they have to use so many different skills and parts of their brains. They are using memory, planning, flexibility, empathy, language… you name it! Just think about it, when you have to role-play something, you have to engage in complex thought and improvise. Children are amazing in their ability to think up ideas and stories right on the spot…it’s like pure creativity. Creativity happens to be the basis for a lot of problem solving skills down the road. Research has shown that playing pretend can be linked to success in math, science, and problem-solving for children later on in school. Here is a list of positive outcomes for children when it comes to imaginative play importance:

  • Learn cognitive skills,
  • Improve gross and fine motor skills
  • Learn about objects around them
  • Builds social skills
  • Builds language skills
  • Reduces stress
  • Supports healthy attachment
  • Resolves and heals trauma or emotional distress
  • Offers outlet and resolution of emotions

Now is a great time to learn how to support your child in engaging in imaginative play. People are experiencing uncertainty in schedules, and many parents are wondering how to build loving connections and support children’s learning at home. Imaginative play can help! If you want to support your child in engaging in imaginative play, try these steps at home: 

  1. Provide a place to play: This is a simple step, but quite important. Children need a fantasy play space where they can feel free to explore, without worrying about being stopped or reprimanded. It doesn’t matter if you have a whole playroom., or a free play corner where you pull out toys each morning. Children just need a safe place to  roam where they can explore without fear of harming themselves or things around them. Some parents refer to a space like this as a “yes” space, a space where we can tell our child “yes” a lot, instead of “no.”
  1. Provide Things to play with: The key here is ‘less is more.’ Toys that are open-ended encourage imaginative play. Open-ended means that there is more than one way to use the objects (example: Blocks are an open-ended toy, whereas a puzzle is not). Real objects (pots and pans) or natural objects (sticks and rocks) are awesome props for kids. Children can seriously use their imagination with anything they find!
  1. Set aside time for pretend play: Time may be something your kids have lots of these days, or maybe not. Pretend play is really promoted when screens, TV, and other engaging activities are turned off and put away. When we have time set aside for creative play, children are better able to engage with the other toys and people around them.
  1. Play with them: If your child is new to pretend play, or even if they are older and think video games are more fun, try connecting with them through  pretend play. Try picking up a toy and making it talk, or start building something, or put on a costume. See if your kids jump in. If they want to take the lead, let them! It’s great for kids to be the leaders in creative play. If playing for an extended period of time feels hard for you as a parent, consider setting yourself a timer. Start with just 10 minutes of uninterrupted time playing with your little one. We bet you will find some joy in it, and your child will too!

As a parent, If you want more ideas for raising confident children and ways to connect with your little one through imaginative play, and games, check out our resources and tools at Slumberkins online. This summer, at Camp Slumberkins, we have lots of games and activities to help children and parents play and learn together, using imaginative play. You can find more about Camp Slumberkins 2020 on our website, and stay posted for next year’s camp registration. Happy playing!



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