This blog post is written in collaboration with very.co.uk
Imaginative play is also called pretend play or role play, and it’s when your child imagines themselves as something else and plays as that role. For example, dressing up as a fireman and pretending to be putting out fires, or casting a spell as a wizard. Imaginative play is really beneficial for kids, from toddlers all the way through primary school, but early years is a big focus as this is when core skills can be developed the most. Here are some of the benefits of imaginative play for your kids, so you can see how important it is to support them and provide them with role play toys which will help their development – and let them have loads of fun too!
Gives them social skills and language
Imaginative play encourages social development. It’s a great way of getting kids to work together and play together. Any interaction with other children is increasing development, and helps children start to understand relationships and boundaries. This in turn will boost their confidence and make them feel more connected with other people. Even if you don’t happen to have anyone to play with them, you might find that they act out scenarios by themselves, this can encourage imaginary friends, or talking to toys – which still develops language skills and builds creativity!
Play ideas that develop social skills:
- Visiting a shop, cafe or restaurant and placing an order or buying items
- Acting out a scenario such as going to the hairdressers and asking “what haircut would you like today?”
- Roleplaying an event, such as a birthday party
- Taking the bus or train and buying a ticket from the driver
- Making phone calls
- Switching roles, so the child pretends to be the adult
Above you can see William playing with – this allows him to be a sandwich shop owner. He also has the Melissa and Doug Ice Cream Shop which has been one of his favourite toys for years!
Teaches valuable life skills and is a great opportunity to learn in fun and new ways
By practicing things through imaginary play, children can process the world around them and begin to learn how an adult interacts. In the above example of the shopkeeper, William started to learn how we go into shops and buy things. This teaches the start of understanding about money and how things have value (as well as a bit of maths!).
Here William is playing with the Melissa & Doug Vroom Vroom Interactive Dashboard, which is a really fun way for kids to feel like they’re getting hands on behind the wheels of a car. Things like beeping the horn, indicating when you want to turn, playing the radio, turning the ignition, filling up the fuel gauge on the side – those are things he’ll see mum and dad do out in the real world, and this gives him a better understanding of them, whilst also being really fun. He currently can’t decide if he wants to be a race car driver or work in a sweet factory.
Helps develop their emotions
Imaginative play helps emotional development by encouraging empathy and to explore emotions. Firstly your child will be thinking about other people, how to help them and how to be kind to them, how they might be feeling. Secondly, it helps them understand their own feelings and emotions. Emotions are a big deal for little ones and can be a cause of negative behaviour such as tantrums as they’re unable to process and understand their own feelings. So helping them emotionally early on can really make the parenting journey much smoother as well!
Play ideas to develop empathy:
- Doctor, nurse or dentist outfit with a volunteer, doll or toy as their patient
- A vets setup with a teddy who’s not feeling well
- A building toolkit and a scenario where something in your house is broken and needs to be fixed to help you
- A superhero helping with tasks and saving the day
- A wizard casting spells to fight evil and save people
- A policeman helping to keep the peace and helping people to cross the road
- A firefighter putting out a fire, or helping a teddy down from a tree
These all have the benefit of not only encouraging empathy and kindness to other people, but will also help your child feel less fearful and more confident should they find themselves in need of help. Next time they visit the doctor, or the dentist, or see a police man walking down the road, they’re going to feel more confident and not afraid.
Gives them confidence in new situations
Role play can encourage children into new situations which gives them confidence and can help them get over apprehension or fear. For example William doesn’t love bugs and can find them a little bit scary. Having this Melissa & Doug Naturalist Vest Playset complete with bug kit, tweezers and magnifying glass had us spending hours in the garden hunting down woodlice and ants to collect (don’t worry, I released them again later, filled with images of him opening the container in his bedroom…).
The second situation William is a bit nervous about is speaking up in school when a teacher asks for answers from the class. The Learning Resources Pretend & Play Original School Set lets him be the teacher and I play the role of the child in the classroom. He loves calling me kid, and writing down maths sums on the whiteboard. He’ll set the clock to the right time and then ring the ball when class is finished and I get given a sticker. This simple bit of role play has encouraged him in some many ways – writing, arithmetic, telling the time, but most of all it’s given him confidence about the class system so next time the teacher calls out for answers, he’ll remember playing this game and join in.
Does your child have something they’re a bit nervous about? How could you encourage an imaginative play situation that will help them tackle their worries? If you need any help brainstorming leave a situation in the comments and I’d be happy to throw some ideas out there, or you could check out some of these options for imaginative play and see what catches your eye.
Finally the last thing I want to quickly touch on is freedom of play. I might be tempted to steer William towards the teaching set before bed time, as to me it seems like the one that will support him in school the most and develop his writing and reading skills. But allowing kids to choose their own toys is actually a big developmental tool in themselves. As parents we always want the best for our children, and it’s tempting to try and steer them in one direction or another. But by giving them multiple choices for toys and allowing them to choose their own, it enhances instinct and imagination whilst increasing confidence. I’m not saying let them pick any toy in the world, curate what you have at home, but give them the freedom to make their own choices of what to play.
I hope I’ve given you something to think about when it comes to the importance of imaginative play for our children, and a few ideas for how to encourage their development!