5 Ways to Foster Your Child's Imaginative Play
By Emily Habelrih, Clinical Psychologist
In its very essence, play is the natural language of children. They learn to play well before they learn to talk, making the toys and materials we provide them with their “words”. It can be difficult for children to express concepts, ideas, or emotions via words, making “play” the perfect tool for communication and emotional growth.
Play is an important aspect of early education in children. By fostering creativity in your child, you are encouraging emotional and social development, which are great foundations to lay before a child begins school. Imaginative play also helps develop a child’s ability to make decisions, build confidence, and encourages self-expression, independence, and resilience.
You often hear of young children being given an expensive gift by a family member, and instead of running off to play with the gift, they are much more interested in the cardboard box that the gift came in. This is a great example of the intrinsic nature of imagination! Here are five great ways to further support imaginative play in your child.
1. CREATE A PLAY TUB FOR YOUR CHILD.
One way to begin fostering imaginative play, is to create a play tub for children each day. You don’t necessarily need a continuous influx of gadgets and technology to keep children entertained. In fact, a small box of animal figurines, dinosaurs, and perhaps some craft items or items from nature would be a fantastic start to this tub. Each day, you could replace/add recycled items to the box to encourage your child to use the same figurines/dolls in a different context. This may include new sticks, leaves, empty toilet paper rolls, empty tissue boxes, or even play dough. By changing items daily, with minimal effort, you have now offered your child a fantastic opportunity to explore new materials and create new story lines.
ON’T BE AFRAID TO GET MESSY!
Have you ever heard of the expression “The most creative artists have the messiest palettes?” Play is bound to get messy for a child. Encourage them to play outside, sometimes with only one or two toys, and get lost in the dirt or the mud. Sometimes, you might even provide them with washable paints and an old sheet, or chalk to draw on the pavement. Play does not always have to be structured with a specific goal in mind. Children will always learn through experience.
3. DON’T PLACE A LABEL ON ITEMS THEY MAY PLAY WITH.
This is a great way to support the story lines your child comes up with. If we constantly label toys or items, we are not giving the child an opportunity to use different materials/toys in creative ways. For example, a child may refer to his teddy bear as an airplane and begin to “fly” it in the air, making airplane noises. If we had labelled the teddy bear as a “teddy bear”, the child would not have thought of different ways the teddy bear could have contributed to his/her story line.
4. BOREDOM IS OK.
In today’s society, parents are often pressured into ensuring their children are enrolled in music classes, sports lessons, and a million other activities. Although these activities foster learning in different ways, they are often structured, with no room for individuality. If you think of a music lesson, a child is given a piece of music and asked to learn it. At sports practice, they are given structured play and asked to learn it. Even in an art class, they are often told what to paint/draw/mold. Children often need time to be bored so that they can actually learn to use their imagination and creativity in order to create a game or activity to entertain themselves. This is when the best play ideas come out. Remember, no one ever made a fort out of pillows in their living room when they were in a rush to get out the door!
5. JOIN IN THE PLAY WITH YOUR CHILD BUT LET THEM DIRECT YOU!
Always ask your child if you can join in but ensure that you are following their script! Often when an adult enters a play environment, children tend to sit back and follow the script of the adult. However, by allowing them to continue the script, we are building their confidence in their own abilities.
As long as the play is appropriate, and nobody is in harm’s way, there are no boundaries or rules around play! Let your child show you what they can do, what they have learned from their environment, and what they are capable of in the future!
Emily Habelrih | Clinical Psychologist
Emily is a registered psychologist with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology), Post Graduate Diploma of Psychology and a Masters of Clinical Psychology. Emily is a member of the Australian Psychological Society (APS) and has a specific interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), developmental delay anxiety in children and building self-esteem. Her interest in childhood mental health began at a young age when her brother was diagnosed with Autism. This sparked her passion for supporting the needs of not only the child, but the siblings and family members of those who have a child in the family with additional needs.