The demands of parenting are endless. Ensuring that a child (or two or three or four) has what they need to grow and thrive can be as thrilling as it is demanding. We want to give our children all the things we didn’t have, to guarantee experiences to shape them into humans that can take on the challenges of the real world. But the truth is, sometimes we overdo it. Sometimes, instead of adding another toy to the toy box or downloading another educational app, all we really need to do is let our children reach for the thing that doesn’t cost a dime and ensures a lifetime of excellent entertainment: their imagination.
There are days when it feels like growing up in the late 20th century makes me a dinosaur, especially in my students’ eyes. For them, life without instant communication, a phone in their pocket at all times, and endless access to the internet seem like life in the Stone Age. Even in an age when our children have constant and instant entertainment at their fingertips, it is more important than ever to ensure they are receiving an appropriate amount of playtime using nothing but their own minds. Playing pretend gives children the ability to develop crucial skills that they may not build as easily with technology alone.
Now, in no way am I casting judgment on giving yourself a little downtime after a long day of work by putting an iPad in those little hands because there are many benefits to technology and our world wouldn’t be thriving without it. Plus, I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes that ten minutes of silence is worth it at the end of a long day! I am, however, advocating that we balance the tech time with enough creative and imaginary playtime to let our children develop the skills they need to thrive in society.
Imaginary play gives children a chance to roleplay and engages them in everyday life’s social and emotional roles. Whether they are pretending to be a firefighter, a superhero, or a princess, they have experiences that allow them to view life from someone else’s perspective, creating empathy that will better equip them for social situations. When they are encouraged to play pretend with friends, siblings, or parents, they are even more likely to develop the social and cooperative skills that will help them grow and mature.
Imaginary play is also critical to the development of a child’s language and thinking skills. By mimicking conversations they hear while observing everyday life (that would be you, Mom and Dad!), children will develop their own conversational skills and make connections between their own enchanted world and real life. This connection is crucial to engaging a child’s critical thinking skills and taking them into higher-level thinking.
If a child and his playmate both want to play a certain role, they will be faced with the opportunity to problem-solve and create a role that allows both to enjoy playtime. This kind of problem-solving is the first step in a skill that children must possess to succeed in school and adulthood. Additionally, research shows that imaginary play can benefit the frontal lobe development, thus decreasing the need to rough house or act out. This is a huge benefit for an overly energetic child!
While it is important to keep up with today’s technological advances, sometimes the old saying “keep it simple” wins. That’s the point of pretend play—simplicity, at least on the surface. Who knows what kind of depths your child’s mind is reaching!
6 Household Items to Help Your Child Imagine
Crates and Boxes
Instead of throwing them out, let your child transform them into a playhouse, a rocket ship, or a boat. Ask them where they are headed on their journey and watch them get excited about pretend play.
Old Clothing Items
Those old scarves, shoes, dresses, and hats are the perfect dress-up costumes for your little one. Don’t you remember strutting around in your mom’s old high heels as a kid? Or was it Dad’s boots? Either way, they’ll love pretending to be a grown-up.
Old Phones and Magazines
Kids see us use our phones to take care of business daily, so why not let them use an old one to handle a few things of their own. Playing office, house, and library are just a few things they can pretend with those old items.
Old wooden spoons, plastic bowls, and kid-friendly serving pieces make great supplies for your child to open their own imaginary restaurant. Grab a few and let them see what they can cook up!
Stuffed Animals and Dolls
My toddler can’t get enough of stuffed animals right now, and I’m okay with that for the simple fact that he plays pretend with them constantly. Whether Micky Mouse and his friends are on an adventure or the farm animals need feeding, these little guys provide never-ending imaginary entertainment for littles.
Blankets and Old Sheets
Remember those old tents made of sheets that we constructed as kids? Why not give your itty bitties a chance to recreate a little of your own childhood magic. They could also tie one around their neck and transform into a superhero in an instant!