Children love to play. It’s in a child’s nature to try to have the most fun out of life. Out of all the things that children love to play, however, one activity seems to rise above them all. Not only that, it seems to be on a universal scale as children around the world participate in it. Children love to imagine that they’re something they’re not. Whether it’s a princess, a fireman, or a superhero, children have an incredible ability to create scenarios and characters to place in those scenarios instinctively. Without any toys in front of them, two children can play for hours while pretending they’re something more than children. It’s not just the fantastical that children get excited about. Some of the earliest role-playing a child will do will be emulating mom or dad doing everyday activities such as baking, washing dishes, or shopping at a grocery store.
As adults, we don’t typically get as excited about life as children do. Perhaps they’re seeing something adults don’t. Though adults often think that imaginative play is just something that children do, many people would be surprised to learn that imaginative play is actually something very healthy and beneficial for children to participate in. There are a number of benefits that imaginative play contributes to a child’s development.
The Benefits of Imaginative Play
The primary benefit of imaginative play in the lives of the children is the ability to role-play situations in which they will one day engage in as adults or adolescents. In many ways, imaginative play is safe practice for growing up, and while it can’t prepare them for everything they will face as they’re growing up, it will give them an advantage that a life without significant practice can’t give.
When children engage in imaginative play, they’re often placing themselves into pretend social scenarios in which they must effectively navigate social interactions. For example, a child might pretend to be making a food order at a restaurant while another child pretends to be the one taking her order. A pretend social interaction such as this gives children practice at concepts such as taking turns, understanding the roles of customer and employee, clearly communicating, and positive interactions with other people. By pretending to be other people, children are experimenting with what it would be like to be that other person. This ability to empathize with another person helps them to think beyond their own immediate concerns in an interaction with another person as they develop more of understanding behind why someone might say or do the things that they do. Children are also able to practice conflict resolution in their imaginative play with other children, which is a vital skill for children and adults alike. Parents who need more information on how to properly resolve conflict can check out this course.
When kids engage in imaginative play, they seem to be instantly drawn to imagined scenarios in which there is a bad guy and a good guy. It’s as if they’re hard-wired to understand that life is full of oppositions that people must overcome. Whether the child role-plays the part of the good guy or the bad guy, the good guy versus bad guy scenario teaches them critical thinking skills as they consciously consider what is acceptable behavior in the world and what is not. Imaginative play also helps them to develop very vital problem solving skills. For example, as they navigate a scenario in which the good guy must overcome the bad guy, they exercise problem solving skills as they imagine exactly how to overcome the bad guy. Another example is when two children decide that they want to role-play the same role. They exercise problem solving skills as they negotiate who will role-play the role and how long before the other child gets their turn.
A further benefit that builds upon a child’s problem solving skills is the ability to be creative. Children who engage in imaginative play are naturally exercising their ability to be innovative. In fact, creativity is universal among children, and the most successful adults tend to be the ones who continue to embrace their creative side. Unfortunately, a trend among growing children has been the gradual distancing from being creative. Creativity, however, allows people to integrate into a variety of situations, especially in the world of work. Imaginative play gives children practice at being innovative, and parents should encourage their children to continue to embrace their creative side more and more as they grow older. A couple of courses that could help encourage your child’s creativity are the Art School for Kids course and the The Ultimate Mystery Writing Course for Kids. Both courses will give them the opportunity to create and further develop their ability to create.
Imaginative play also helps children to develop the skills to cope with difficult or undesirable situations as they pretend to experience the emotions associated with a variety of situations. For example, when a child does something wrong, they don’t enjoy the experience of being punished for their behavior. Children will sometimes cope with the feelings associated with punishment by role-playing as someone giving punishment instead of receiving it. They’ll do this by pretending that they are a parent to a doll or other toy. The child will imagine the toy engaging in the behavior for which they were punished. The child will then deliver the same punishment that was delivered to them. This helps them to understand that their own behavior was wrong as well as understanding what it feels like to be the one doing the punishing.
Probably one of the most significant benefits children experience as a result of imaginative play is the development of their language skills. Children are keen observers of the people around them, and parents will often notice that their children are repeating words and phrases that they hear mom or dad saying frequently. As children engage in pretend scenarios, they tend to use the words that they hear older adults using, and this helps them to develop communication skills. It also means, of course, that parents should be consciously aware of the things that they are saying because their children will be learning from what they hear from their parents. Children learn that the words that they use help them to communicate, and they learn how to form the things they want to say better.
Encouraging Imaginative Play
Because imaginative play is such a healthy contributor to a child’s overall development, parents should be actively encouraging their child when they engage in imaginative play. Parents can encourage their child’s imagination at play by providing props that aid in their imaginative play or even a designated space that is designed to encourage them to imagine and pretend. Parents can also encourage their children while also embracing their own creativity by engaging in imaginative play with their children. Children love it when their parents will pick up an action figure and pretend to be fighting the bad guys alongside their children. It’s helping their child’s development while also providing a valuable and unforgettable bonding experience for parent and child.
Imaginative play is clearly more than just something that children do to pass the time and keep themselves entertained. It’s a valuable way in which children develop some of the primary skills that will aid them later on in life.