Why imaginative play matters

Benefits of Play  |  8 months ago

Why imaginative play matters

Recently, well-known actress/producer/writer Mindy Kaling posted a funny photograph of herself wearing a crown, looking out from the “castle” of her CedarWorks playset.In the photo, she wears a crown, and the caption is “5 MILLION FOLLOWERS?! I didn’t want to believe it, but I guess I really am the queen of Instagram!”

Her post is a lighthearted celebration of her accomplishment in reaching so many Instagram followers, but her costume crown also shows that she is a person who embraces imaginative play, even as an adult. As an entertainer, her love of imaginative play is no doubt a big part of her success.

Imaginative or symbolic play (what most of us think of as pretend or make believe play) is important for everyone, not just budding actors and writers. It is a vital part of child development, providing a way for children to practice social, problem solving, and language skills.

Imaginative play is a kind of loosely structured play which usually involves role-playing, object substitution (pretending a banana is a phone, for instance) and non-literal behavior. It can begin as early as 18 months when a toddler might imitate her mom or dad talking on the phone or doing chores around the house.

Imaginative play provides an opportunity for kids to practice and develop their language and social skills simply by being with and talking to other children. It also boosts development of problem solving and self-regulation skills because imaginative play with peers can create situations in which not everyone gets what they want. Not everyone can be the “teacher” when kids are playing school, for instance, so everyone will need to compromise and figure out roles they can play, or the game will end. 

It is probably not surprising that imaginative play is especially good for kids’ creativity and imagination. By immersing themselves in a game of pretend, children practice using their imagination and thinking creatively. The ability to use one’s imagination is a cognitive skill that can help with problem solving throughout a person’s life.

A playset can be a great place to foster imaginative play, of course - a fort-style structure can be a castle, a house, or an ice cream shop. Monkey bars can carry you safely over a river. You could also provide your kids with an elaborate playhouse, or a toy car to pretend to drive around in. But the beauty of imaginative play is that kids don’t really need you to provide them with a ton of props. Imaginative play can happen virtually anywhere: a backyard, a family room, even under the kitchen table. Kids just need to be allowed the time and space to act out their imaginations. The lifelong benefits are well worth it.

Why Pretend Play Is Important to Child Development, Pentagon Play

The benefits of imaginative play, Therapy Focus

The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development, Psychology Today