Imaginative play is the act of demonstrating or role-playing real-life experiences or events the child would like to experience. Imaginative play is an integral part of both language development and play skill development. Here at The Therapy Place, our therapists incorporate imaginative play into their speech or occupational therapy sessions, but it is not a skill that is limited to the therapy room. Imaginative play can be carried over into any environment, including your own home!
Examples of Imaginative Play
Imaginative play can occur anywhere with anybody and any props (or none at all!). When a child is alone, it can look like a child feeding a teddy bear breakfast, pretending to give dolls a bath, or playing the role of the teacher with a classroom full of stuffed animals. With peers, a skit, whether based solely on imagination or based on real-life experiences, can come to life. With a parent, the child can choose to reverse roles and pretend to be the parent while the parent pretends to be the child. The options for imaginative play are as unlimited as your child’s imagination!
The Connection Between Imaginative Play and Language Development
When language skills are emerging in young children, most of their vocabulary consists of words that are applicable to their everyday environment or that they can see, such as mom, dad, go, eat, drink, etc. At The Therapy Place, imaginative play is emphasized to allow for the addition of words that children don’t necessarily experience every day. For example, when a child engages in pretending to be a princess, there are many new words that the child has the opportunity to hear and talk about that wouldn’t be spoken about on a regular basis, such as a crown, castle, king, queen, etc. In addition, imaginative play allows children to practice listening to others, leading and following, observing their environment and adapting accordingly, identifying and responding to body language, and engaging in reciprocal conversation.
Additional Benefits of Imaginative Play
A child experiences so many benefits when they engage in imaginative play. Not only is imaginative play good for language development, but it also encourages creativity and allows the child to put his/her thoughts into action. Imaginative play allows children to re-create their life experiences in play. When so much of a child’s life is out of their control, imaginative play provides the opportunity for the child to experience everyday events while being in the driver’s seat. Along with that sense of control comes the opportunity for cooperation and conflict management with their peers as children often bring their own unique ideas to the table and they must communicate with their peers to decide what type of play they will engage in, who will play each role, what props will be used, etc.
How To Promote Imaginative Play
There are several helpful hints to consider when trying to promote imaginative play. First, make sure your child has a safe space to explore his/her imagination. It can be anywhere from a bedroom to the kitchen table, and everywhere in between! Providing props and toys to your child can help spark an idea. You don’t need to spend a lot of money or buy anything that you don’t already have in your home. Often the simplest of items make the best props. An empty toilet paper roll can turn into a kaleidoscope, a phone, or a musical instrument. A box can turn into a house, a cave, or even just a space for creative coloring. Playing with your child but allowing them to take the lead opens the mind to a world of possibilities. You may be surprised by words your child knows, ideas they have, or how they portray events that occur every day!
Everyone is capable of assisting in their child’s development of imaginative play. Whether playing alone, with peers of the same age peers, or with an adult, your child can explore their imagination and bring it to life. Find everyday items around your home and watch to see the story your child creates with them!
Davis, Janice, and About The Author Janice Davis. “What Is Imaginative Play and How to Encourage It?” Learning 4 Kids, 21 Feb. 2021, https://www.learning4kids.net/2011/12/30/what-is-imaginative-play-and-how-to-encourage-it/.
“The Importance of Pretend Play.” Scholastic, https://www.scholastic.com/parents/kids-activities-and-printables/activities-for-kids/arts-and-craft-ideas/importance-pretend-play.html.
Lee, Katherine. “Why It’s Important to Encourage Pretend Play with Your Children.” Verywell Family, Verywell Family, 10 June 2020, https://www.verywellfamily.com/ideas-to-encourage-pretend-play-and-why-its-so-good-for-kids-3894828.
Roth, Froma P., and Donna M. Clark. “Symbolic Play and Social Participation Abilities of Language-Impaired and Normally Developing Children.” Journal of Speech and Hearing Disorders, vol. 52, no. 1, 1987, pp. 17–29., https://doi.org/10.1044/jshd.5201.17.“What Is Imaginative Play? 10 Ideas for the Whole Family.” Persil, https://www.persil.com/uk/dirt-is-good/real-play/what-is-imaginative-play.html#:~:text=Imaginative%20play%20is%20when%20a,a%20lot%20along%20the%20way.