Children as young as 12 months can begin experimenting with imaginative play, but what does it really mean for the little ones?
If you’re looking after a toddler, I’m sure you’ve been asked to pretend to be a policeman or even a puppy in a role play scenario. But why do toddlers love role play so much and what benefits does it have?
Imaginative play is like a rehearsal, children practise scenarios and things they’ve heard and seen in day to day life. This helps them to understand and make sense of the world and makes them feel secure and more confident in social situations.
Language and communication
If you listen to children, you’ll likely hear words and phrases you never knew were in their vocabulary. They’re mimicking the people around them; parents, family and teachers. Imaginative play helps them understand language and communication and how to apply them in different contexts or scenarios.
Imaginative role play also helps develop listening skills and introduces the idea of turn taking. These skills are important for preparing children for social situations in everyday life and for the school environment.
Navigating a life of emotion is hard work when you first start out but imaginative play helps you understand what they're feeling. You may notice repetition in the topics being acted out. By replaying situations, they’re creating a blueprint to emotions that will set them up with a framework for understanding that they can draw on in future. Their play might take strange tangents with characters being mean or getting hurt but it’s all a fantastic learning experience.
When little ones are engaged in imaginative play with other children, it tests their skill development. Children have to agree on roles and topics in their games. This helps them develop negotiation skills and empathy. This challenging environment also helps children learn about other people’s thoughts and feelings. It may not be easy, with squabbles and disagreements being likely along the way, but it’s a huge step in child development.
How can you encourage imaginative play?
Let the child have space when they’re deep in imaginative play, only join in if you’re invited and make sure you let them take the lead! Provide them with a dressing up box, hats and headwear to open up a whole range of new characters and possibilities to explore! Make sure the clothes you put in the dressing up box are things the child can put on unaided, wide neck lines and oversized coats are a good choice. Blankets are a great addition to any imaginative play set, they can be used as a cape or a dress and of course for building a den!
Add some props to the box to encourage play. Old phones and newspapers make great additions along with empty boxes, travel tickets and play money. Buy toys that encourage role play and allow them to explore a huge range of skills.
Pretend play time is likely to be one of the child's favourite activities, allowing them to learn some key skills through play. Encouraging imaginative play is easy and very beneficial, making it invaluable to child development.
Imaginative play might seem like fun and games but in reality, it’s serious learning. When children are involved in imaginative play they’re actually practising social situations. Children re-enact things they’ve heard about or seen so they can develop a social understanding and practise their own feeling and emotions.
Giving voices to toys and taking lead on imaginative play all helps to develop language skills in children.
Don’t be afraid to get involved with imaginative play - sure you might end up pretending to be a puppy but don’t try to take the reigns, give the child complete freedom and let them have time to think and communicate their ideas. Suggest scenarios to get their imaginative skills flowing! By letting them take the lead they’re working on their communication and confidence.
Imaginative play means listening to other people and taking turns. It’s a great way to practise those important social skills. Make eye contact with the child while they’re explaining the scenario to you and be careful not to talk over them. Work together with them what’s the scenario, who’s playing what role, create scenarios.
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