As someone who has worked with children for majority of my life, imaginative play is something that I have learned to encourage in all children (and have so much fun sitting back and watching their imaginative play as they begin to grow!)
A, currently 2 1/2 years old, has recently gotten incredibly imaginative and has been using dolls, babies, and a doll house to play. I can’t always make out her language, but her people have conversations go about their daily life in the imaginative world that my daughter has created.
Encouraging children of all ages to engage in imaginative play allows their creativity to bloom.
7 Ways to Encourage Imaginative Play
1. Shake up the routine. Some families have so many after school activities that the child can barely settle down to breath none the less have time to get imaginative. Don’t be so structured with so many activities that you are limiting them to their imagination.
2. Do not structure their play time. Let them lead and you follow.
3. Provide free thinking toys. A has Barbie dolls, baby dolls, a doll house, dress up clothes, etc. All things that allow her to create her own play.
4. Play with them! I love feeding or bathing A’s babies or using one of her dolls to talk to another doll or talk directly to A herself.
5. Start young with big, colorfully, pictured books. You can read from the text or make it more fun and make up your own stories! Remember, you are their role model. The more you engage in imaginative play, the more they will be encouraged to engage in imaginative play!
6. Pretend, pretend, pretend! Dinner time? Approach them with your tablet and ask them what they would like to eat. Write it in your tablet, provide them their food, and at the end, give them their bill. If they are old enough to bake with you – pretend you are famous chef’s on television! Allow them to pretend and pretend with them.
7. Watch television shows or movies that encourage imaginative play. Poppy the Cat is a show we were recently introduced to and it is a great show for encouraging imaginative play. Each imaginary adventure begins with Poppy using her colorful checkered bandana to create an imaginary mode of transportation (such as a train or a hot air balloon) to take the gang to their pretend destination.
The show is a colorful, adventure-filled preschool series on Sprout and on Netflix (on air seven days a week at 7:00 pm and Saturday mornings on the NBC Kids block, which is programmed by Sprout) based on the international award-winning books by British author Lara Jones. Poppy Cat is a celebration of imaginative play — the series encourages preschoolers to use their imaginations to solve problems and discover the world around them.
The show is cartoon, but not the bright, colorful cartoon that some are today. It is more… the characters of the book come to life on the show. The characters include Poppy Cat, a capable, endearing, and determined orange tabby cat who is an adventurer, dreamer, and devoted friend; Zuzu the Dog who is a ball of pure energy, competitive, loud, and practically fearless. He’s also impulsive, cool and always the first to laugh at a joke. Mo the Mouse is an overly cautious, tightly wound ball of nervous energy. The little mouse looks up to Zuzu like a big brother and envies his bravery. Alma the Rabbit is charming and excitable. She is a loyal, affectionate friend who loves jewelry, the color pink and picnics. Egbert the Badger is desperate to be part of the group, although only by his rules. Rather than accept their invitation to play, Egbert is always “too busy” to attend…but he always finds a way to interject himself into the adventure later on, with his own rules. Owl, a hat-wearing adult of indeterminate age, considers himself an expert on almost everything (kind of reminds me of Owl on Winnie the Pooh!) Though he has traveled far from his comfortable house, Owl’s directions are usually comically convoluted. Owl likes the finer things in life: a soft coconut-leaf nest, a cup of hot chocolate, and a quick nap whenever he can catch one.
Poppy Cat includes elements of play and problem solving that fosters imagination and creativity. In addition to the television show, the Poppy Cat Facebook and Pinterest page have games, coloring sheets, and art activities!
For example, episode 128. This episode begins with Poppy and the gang engaged in object substitution (building a pretend castle out of cardboard boxes). Unlike realistic props that do not require a great deal of imagination, unstructured props, such as cardboard boxes, can be used stand for many objects (for e.g., a cardboard box can also be a rocket ship or a refrigerator). This type of object substitution is more sophisticated, and requires children to use more descriptive language in their play so that their play partners understand what the object stands for. By modeling this type of play, children learn how they can use unstructured objects to stand for something different.
For an added bonus, why not build a cardboard castle for your kiddo to play in while watching Poppy Cat!?
Imaginative play is a vital part of child development starting at such a young age. What do you do to encourage imaginative play with your little?