Pretend and Imaginative Play

My three-year-old grandson, Parker, gravitates towards playthings with push buttons while we stroll down the toy aisle. He hopes the buttons will make sounds and “talk” to him. As a child development specialist, I’m not too thrilled with his fascination because these toys don’t leave much to the imagination.

“Grams, this one doesn’t make any noise,” he comments rather confused.

“You’re right Parker, it doesn’t. You have to use your imagination. You can pretend and make the stuffed dog say anything you want.” I’ve given an interesting concept to a child living in a computer-generated world where imagination is virtually untapped.

Benefits. Pretend play helps children gain developmental benefits including creativity, imagination, self-confidence, mastering new concepts, and communication skills. So how can parents encourage pretend and imaginative play in a technological world? Provide open-ended toys and materials, dramatic play items, games, and interactions that facilitate children’s play.

Open-Ended Toys. Choose “open-ended” toys and materials. This means toys that offer different ways children can play with them. Examples of open-ended play items are blocks, cardboard boxes, wooden train sets, dress-up clothes, play dough, and art materials. Items children can build and create anything they dream of are ideal for imagination, such as: Duplos, Legos, Lincoln Logs, Mega Blocks, and magnetic blocks. One day a child builds a zoo while another time he/she constructs a ferry.

Dramatic Play. Another way parents can enhance children’s imaginations is through dramatic play. Building forts, houses, hospitals, and stores using common household items provides infinite creativity and pretending. Sheets, blankets, pillows, cardboard boxes, large appliance boxes, stools, chairs, and boards are great materials.

Children can also imitate real-life events to advance pretend play. For example, if the dog goes to the vet, children can invent a pet hospital at home. Set up a dentist’s office, doctor’s office, grocery store, classroom, hair salon, pet store, or auto shop. The possibilities are endless.

Dress-up Clothes. Children also enjoy dress up clothes in adult sizes that you can discover at used clothing stores, such as Goodwill. Choose items that represent both genders as well as clothes from different cultures. You’ll enjoy watching your children try “adult” roles as they express themselves in pretend play.

Games. Games provide another way for expressing imagination. Once children learn rules to traditional board games ask them to create a new game with different rules. You can also provide children with common game items and ask them to create a new game. “What kind of game can we play with a Frisbee and a ball?” You’ll be amazed at how much fun they’ll cultivate for your family

Benefits. Finally, talking to children while they play not only promotes children’s vocabulary, communication skills, and storytelling, but helps children’s imaginations. Suggestions like, “What else can you build?” or “How can you make your store higher?” stretches children’s problem solving abilities and the beginnings of abstract thinking. Puppets are another great way to facilitate pretend play and vocabulary. A chair with a towel over it becomes a puppet stage.

Encouraging your children to use their imaginations by providing a wide variety of play items and interactions will build skills that will last a lifetime.

 

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