Imaginary or imaginative play is also the same as pretend play. Compared to other types of games or play, imaginary play doesn’t have a set of rules. It is open-ended, and how it flows depends on the children playing. This makes it different each time, and the child’s scenarios are almost limitless.
Because children have no specific and complex rules that they have to follow, imaginary play is easier. But because each scenario is unique, your child won’t get bored nor predict how the story will go. Think of it as role-playing just like actors, but the children are also the scriptwriter and director.
With imaginary play, you’ll notice what interests your child the most. Of course, they will act out the scenes that they wish to do. Some of those activities might be something that they want to do, e.g., drive/bake. But because they are too young, they can’t safely do them, so they can practice and live their fantasy first by role-playing.
If you’re thinking if you need to buy expensive toys to get your child excited about imaginary play, you are wrong. In fact, you might be surprised how extensive a child’s imagination can be. You can start with simple home items like cardboard boxes, non-breakable utensils that you don’t use, and even old phones.
If your child is into cooking, the market offers the best kid’s play kitchen that even looks like an exact replica of an adult kitchen. How cool is that? Notice what intrigues and excites your child, and if he/she is keen on helping with cooking, getting him/her a toy kitchen will surely keep him/her engaged for a long time.
Examples of Imaginary Play
Imaginary play is not just limited to ordinary day-to-day activities like cooking. Your child can even discover their interests with different subjects such as science or mathematics by play pretending as a scientist or professor. Imaginary play may seem very simple, but in the future, it might be one of those factors that ignite a child’s passion for a subject.
You can also engage with your little one and discover the child in you. While not everyone is willing to wear a tutu and twirl as their “fairy” child asked them to, you can join his/her narrative in simple ways. Perhaps you can be their narrator as your kids act out a scene in their favorite movie. The bottom line is to encourage your child’s imagination and let them be in charge.
The Benefits of Imaginary Play
There are various studies that have demonstrated the significance of play pretend in a child’s development. Children as young as 2 years old can benefit from the benefits of imaginary play. The components involved in play pretend like symbolism, fantasy, organization, and divergent thinking affect the child’s cognitive and affective processes necessary for his/her development.
Other than the capacity to think and expand their imagination, the problem-solving skills that kids develop when creating a narrative is important later in adulthood. You have to know the associations between objects and organize them to make “sense”, which are things that we still do now that we are adults.
When children engage in imaginary play, they are allowed to express their true feelings and emotions. They are not boxed in a set of rules because they dictate how the narrative flows. But more than creativity, they also learn how to modulate and recognize their emotions. Play pretend teaches them how to regulate their expression with every scenario that they do with themselves or friends.
The different roles that your child experiments with allows him/her to experience what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. And in a way, this also makes it easier for him/her to understand the feelings of others.
You can also take advantage of play pretend to live out true-to-life scenarios to set as an example for your child. For example, let’s say both of you re-enact a scene from a favorite movie. Your child can freely express how he/she wants a character to respond. But at the same time, you can use this as a learning opportunity to teach him/her what would be the better and correct response.
Enhance Communication Skills
We often hear our children mumble some simple words as they grow. But when they talk with their friends or even in an imaginary play, it’s surprising to know that their vocabulary is not limited to “mama” or “dada.”
Along with the development of their emotional and thinking skills, your child’s communication skills will also get better during play pretend. Perhaps they are trying to mimic a favorite character or a favorite person. Maybe they can copy the way their teacher explains in the blackboard or how their mom and dad talks.
But also, they are not just saying the words blindly. Your child will also find the connection and meanings of each word as they expand the narrative. And being able to find the meanings behind verbal expressions and social cues is something that can’t be taught unless the child does it himself/herself.
Of course, the most obvious benefits of imaginary play is that it helps with creativity and imagination. It’s like handing your child paint and a blank canvas, and he/she can create whatever design he/she wants.
You might be surprised by how random yet unique your child thinks for each scenario. And more than for artistic professions, creativity also plays a role in other areas like sciences. If your child is not afraid to think beyond the box, it will help him/her understand more complex ideas in the future.
Play pretend also gives you the chance to discover his/her interests and start from there. If your child is interested in acting out scenes in a veterinary clinic, you can bring him/her to one. This inspires him/her, and you can also do other things to keep his/her interest in this area flowing.
Overall, imaginary play is more than just dress-ups and re-enactments. Your children are able to develop various skills that he/she will eventually use when he/she enters adulthood. Don’t be shy to sit at the table with them and act impressed when they “cooked” you steak. Who knows? Maybe 10 or 20 years from now, you’ll be sitting at the restaurant they own.