A child’s education doesn’t end when the school (or nursery) bell rings. In fact, their learning curve should continue right until they go to sleep and pick up again when they wake up. The home environment you create for your children will have a massive impact on their development, both mentally and creatively, in ways that you can’t always predict.
I bet if you think back to some of your earliest memories, they involve scenarios and activities that took place outside of a “formal learning” environment. Whether it was your imaginary friend, the buildings you loved to build out of matchsticks, or the stories you dreamt up while playing with ladybugs, these are experiences that profoundly affected you. After all, that is why you remember them!
Most parents want their children to think in the most original manner possible and, by prioritizing imaginative play in the home, you are doing your part to make that a reality. Here are some ways to inspire and encourage creative play.
What is imagination?
Imagination is defined in the dictionary as “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.”
Why is imaginative play important?
Imaginative play isn’t just about having a good time (although that is indeed a benefit). It also is about presenting your child with ample opportunities to delve into and get to know their artistic self. Too often, as adults, we are embarrassed or insecure about our creative impulses, and while imaginative play isn’t going to fend against social norms, it does allow children to throw themselves into the depths of their imagination wholeheartedly.
Even the term “imagination” conjures up images of blissful, youthful days — those days that are reserved for infants and marked by a lack of worry in the world. Imagination in children is often expressed through stories, role-playing, or imaginary friends. Frequently, these scenarios are between the child and their vision, making it hard for adults to participate in. However, there are ways for parents and other adult figures to further the fun and the developmental benefits.
Here are some ideas for you to encourage imaginative play.
How do I encourage imaginative play?
- Limit TV and screen time. While your kids probably love them, these activities are passive and actually stifle creativity.
- Spend time in nature. Ask your children to create stories about animals and events outside your home.
- Don’t underestimate the power of LEGO and other creative building activities. We grew up playing with them for hours!
- With a pile of graph paper, ask your child to redesign their favorite playground or place. Ask how they would make it different. How could they make it more fun for other kids? You never know, you might be training a future architect!
- Pull out the dressing-up box. Even at a young age, a child can appreciate what transforming into a new character means.
- Have an arts and crafts cupboard stocked high with paints, crayons, and paper. Allow them to explore their creative side from an early age.
- If you do want to include movies into imaginative play, have your child watch a superhero movie and then create their own superman or superwoman identity. Ask them what their powers would be and why. Let them brainstorm their own superhero name, and even have them design their logo. That could be next year’s Halloween costume sorted!
- Family book clubs are a fantastic way to get all (or a majority) of family members involved in imaginative play. You could even form a group with other families in the neighborhood. Not only does this provide excellent opportunities for your children (and you) to socialize, but it also instills a love of the written word from an early age.
- In today’s globalized world, we all wish we could speak another language. Think how much your offspring will thank you if you enroll them in Chinese or French classes when they are young!
- Start a ritual where, at the end of the day, your child tells you three things (or at least one) that made them happy that day. Not only will this help them and their wandering mind reflect on their day, but it will also start a custom of positive reflection that will benefit them in the long run.
While it may seem overwhelming at first, chances are high that once you start brainstorming imaginative play activities and events for your children, you will realize that you are actually quite good at it. Take notice of interests that your child already has and create games and stories that relate. Additionally, don’t be afraid or annoyed if what they happily participated in last week no longer excites them now — humans are all fickle!
Once we reach the higher double-digits, we may pretend to turn our nose up at those with wild imaginations, but your inner superhero continues to exist.
Written by: Sreeya Patil
Sreeya Patil Wiesner is the founder of EcoToys. She started her online toy store with an aim to provide healthy, safe and eco-friendly wooden toys to kids 0-6 years of age in the UAE.