Imaginative Play - One of the two major types of play that fosters creativity and social skills

Imaginative play is a major part of a child's life. Though there are many different types of play, almost everything can be classified as being either imaginative or discovery play.

Imaginative play is where a child uses his/her imagination to play. Of course, h/she can be engaged in this type of play and still discover. It is important for the adults to remember that these two types of play are not mutually exclusive.

The two different types of play don't have a contract saying that they will never be present together. No. such ideas ("It's gotta be this way or that") only exist in adults' minds. Children are more free in their ways of thinking and I hope every child will be encouraged to think freely in this way for as long as possible.

Imagination. That is the key. Without imagination, without creativity, humanity will be missing a vital part that differentiates us from the rest of the planet.

Simply put (I know I just said it), imaginative play encourage the use of child's imagination to fuel playtime. There is nothing more wonderful than seeing a group of children engaged in a communal imaginative play. The play is enhanced by the imagination of all the children, all adding bits and pieces to the whole, ending up with a wonderfully unique world with its sets of unique rules.

It is through these imaginative plays that we get to see pirates interacting with space aliens who happen to drive scooters from planet to planet, with the sole mission of collecting charm bracelets throughout the known galaxy (by the way, it's not our galaxy!).

And as they are playing, if you can suspend your adult way of thinking ("That's just impossible. How can ...blah blah blah...?") long enough, you'll see that their world and rules make perfect sense (at least to them, and that's all that matters). And if you continue to watch them play, you'll see that their world is constantly developing and growing to incorporate more complicated rules (the way things are or work).

Have you ever experienced this when you were a child? You create this world with a few friends and have wonderful fun playing in it. Then the next time you get together and try to re-create the world or re-enter it, you find that it is not the same and that you end up creating another world unique in its own way (or was that just with me?).

In some cases, the world lasts and a lot of us still remember our own little favorite worlds that we created, though we sadly don't take the time to endulge in them as often as we probably should. But for the majority, the world is so constantly ever changing that it is almost impossible to keep it the same while children interact with it. If they were the same, it wouldn't be as much fun anyways.

So, let's talk about the practical side of these imaginative plays (here we go with our adult ways of thinking again; everything has to be useful somehow, right?).

Well, as it turns out, imaginative play is not only useful, but critical for a child's development.

In short, imaginative play develops imagination (you saw that one coming, didn't you?). But the benefits doesn't stop there. It also plays a significant role in teaching children social skills.

Imaginative play often involves the child suspending his/her self-identity and becoming someone else for a little while. Maybe this is why imaginative play is so appealing (how many times have you dreamt of being someone else?).

By doing this, the child is actually learning to see and examine things in a different way, from a diffferent perspective and from someone else's shoes. Compared to a child who always sees the world from one perspective, a child who was exposed to seeing things in different light would more likely be better adapted and be a more understanding person. Come to think of it, I think a lot of us know adults who need these qualities too.

I personally think imaginative play is too scarce in today's world and that children are taught to steer their focus away from it too soon.

As adults, we always talk about how wonderful a person is because s/he is so creative. Well, we can help our own children become one of those creative geniuses. Simply let them pretend and have fun.

Need some ideas for imaginative play?

Try these:

  • Dress up
  • Profession toys (e.g., tool box, medical kit, etc...)
  • Pretend foods (e.g., pizza...mmm~)
  • Puppets (e.g., Folkmanis, Manhattan finger puppets, etc...)
  • Other toys like Playmobil that encourage/requires use of imagination to bring the play alive.

If you are too 'adultified' and have a hard time letting your imagination loose, then let someone else who is good at it take charge. You can follow the leader for a while and then join in later as equals (though they'll most likely see you as an equal participant from the beginning anyways).

Who is this great leader to be that you must 'follow' and join?

Your child, of course. But you saw that one coming too, didn't you?

Enjoy your children and their imagination. It's one of their most precious gifts to you. Learn to become a child again.

It'll be fun. I promise.

"education at play"

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