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Playground Equipment Blog
Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Benefits of Imaginative Play

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.” ― Albert Einstein

Imaginative play provides countless social and personal benefits for children. It helps them gain a deeper sense of empathy, gives them confidence, and creates, or strengthens, friendships. Playing pretend (or dramatic play) also leads to success in school and extracurricular activities. And some research even suggests that imaginary play results in demonstrated cognitive benefits, such as increased language usage ― like subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives ― and better social literacy, which fosters cultural sensitivity and awareness.

Playing pretend increases “creative empathy.”

Through imaginative play, children gain cognitive flexibility, and in doing so, grow lifelong social and artistic skills. For example, when a child engages in imaginative play, either by themselves or with a group of kids, they’re trying on different roles and working through a variety of scenarios and challenges. This roleplaying process is crucial for kids to explore and develop their identities and preferences.

Imaginative storytelling enables children to tap into the commonalities that connect us all, which is a good thing for the next generation and society as a whole. As author Robin Moore says, “Inside each of us is a natural-born storyteller, waiting to be released.” Similarly, Joan Didion famously espoused, “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.” In their quest to discover themselves and try on different hats, children tell themselves stories in order to understand their world with all of its newness, wonder, and complexity.

Imaginative play enables children to “walk a day in the shoes” of people and characters different from themselves. If a child understands a variety of stories, they’re more likely to treat their peers and the people they encounter with compassion and kindness. Pretend play, at its core, invites kids to consider a variety of perspectives.

Imaginative play teaches kids to visualize goals and dreams.

Adults use visualization every day, in both their personal and professional lives. Imagination, aka visualization, is at work when adults develop a project at work, plan out their week, read a book, or solve a problem creatively.

As an active form of visualization, imaginative plants seeds for these grown-up skills, giving children an opportunity to set goals and dreams and envision their future. Many of our brightest stars in innovation, science, humanitarian work, business, and the arts describe imagining some version of their future success at a young age. Just ask Oprah Winfrey or Jennifer Lopez. Through imaginative play, kids are transported to new worlds and challenged to learn by mimicking what they see. Introduce your children to aspirational role models, and they’ll be much more likely to follow in their footsteps.

Make believe aids in physical development, too.

Along with the fabulous cognitive benefits of dramatic play, imaginative discovery also offers a great way for kids to develop gross motor skills, make new friends, and blow off some steam in a healthy and positive way.

Dramatic play creates scenarios in which to increase essential skills. For example, kids can practice balance and agility while pretending to be gymnasts or spies walking a tightrope, or they’ll develop fine motor skills through pretend tea parties, playing with paper dolls, or coloring backdrops and other “props” for their dramatic play.

Here are some ways to facilitate dramatic play:

1. Fill a box or trunk with an assortment of dress up clothes and accessories. They don’t have to be expensive. You can score costumes from consignment shops and second-hand stores, or collect gently-used items from your own closet. If the clothes are way too big for a toddler, a few snips of the scissors, along with some well-placed stitches, can go a long way.

2. Seek out playground equipment that facilitates imaginative play. Many parks include play structures that incorporate some dramatic theme, helping to create an atmosphere of pretend fun! Or, consider purchasing a playset for your own backyard!

3. Join your kids in their make believe! Use toys, dress up clothes, books, and everyday items as inspiration for your dramatic play. Some favorite themes include learning about different countries and taking a “pretend trip,” imitating favorite superheroes, making an imaginary trip to the grocery store, and much more. Often, your child will have ideas about themes that interest them, and you can help them embellish or dive deeper into beloved topics by introducing them to corresponding outings, books, and films.

What kind of imaginary play does your kid enjoy? Sound off in the comments below!

Written by: Parker Jones

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