Imaginative play is a great way for kids to practice and develop a wide range of important skills. If your child is just starting to be interested in this type of play, or if you’d like to encourage more pretend play, these five simple ways to get started with imaginative play will help get you on the right track!
As kids aproach 3 years of age, you might find that their imaginations suddenly go into overdrive!
That’s what happened with my youngest child. At around two years and 9 months he suddenly became very interested in pretend play. He went from limited and very simple imaginative play, such as a making appropriate noises for a toy animal, to starting to play out stories and create characters at every opportunity.
When this ‘imagination explosion’ happens, that is the time to start offering your child more complex invitations to play to encourage and extend on these new skills and interests.
Ways to Get Started with Imaginative Play
We love imaginative play around here. It is such a great way for kids to learn and practice so many skills, and it’s so much fun! But if you are new to the world of imaginative play it can be a little hard to figure out how to get started, so here are my five best tips for getting started with imaginative play…
Start With Something They Know and Love
Children learn best when they are engaging in ideas that they are interested in. They also show longer attention spans and better concentration when they are working on and playing with projects, themes or ideas that they love. So rather than offering children imaginative play scenes that you as an adult think they might be interested in, stop and think about your child and what they are interested in. What does your child really love right now?
Set up a play scene following a theme or idea that your child is interested and that they know really well. Perhaps that is trains, or dinosaurs, or fairies, or wild animals. Starting with something familiar and loved will immediately grab and hold their attention. They will immediately know what to do with that dinosaur (since you’ve read them eleventy-hundred books about dinosaurs) and will quickly and easily fall into imaginative play.
Collect a Items to Use in Pretend Play.
One of the best things about imaginative play is that it doesn’t require lots of special equipment. You don’t need batteries, or fancy toys, you can use toys you already have, or cheap items from the dollar store, with lots of natural materials and recyclables thrown in. The key to being able to set up an imaginative play scene easily is to have a bunch of useful items on hand, so start collecting anything you think might work as you find them.
To make a simple ‘small world’ imaginative play scene you’ll need something to put your play scene in or on, characters for your scene, and some accessories.
For characters you could use, plastic animals, dinosaurs, people/fairy figurines, wooden blocks with faces drawn on them, puppets, soft toys, Lego/Duplo people, trains, cars, or dolls.
For accessories you could collect some natural materials such as pine cones, gum nuts, acorns, stones, leaves, wood shavings, or sticks. You could also wooden blocks, Duplo, cardboard, boxes, packing foam, glass pebbles, felt, scraps of material, paper, or any items you have on hand.
Start With Something Simple
When setting up for imaginative play, as an adult, it is tempting to go crazy and set up really elaborate scenes with lots of accessories and characters and ‘cool stuff’. But if you and your child are just starting out with imaginative play it is best to keep it simple, at least in the beginning.
Start with a small, open scene, without lots of messy accessories (keep the water till later). Offer two or three characters, and a couple of different accessories. Set the scene with one or two characters and a few accessories so it looks inviting, but leave some neatly arranged to the side so your child can immediately add to the scene themselves.
Set up Just for One
Imaginative play can be a great way for kids to practice and develop social skills, but in the beginning, especially for younger children, set up your play scene just for one child. If you have more than one child then set up a scene for each of them. This way they can focus on getting lost in their imaginations and not worry about negotiating or sharing for now. You might set up two play scenes side by side which is a perfect way to begin developing co-operative play – let them play alone, but next to each other, and when they are confident and ready they will start to interact and share each others’ imaginative world.
Let Them Come and Go
If you can, set up your pretend play somewhere that it can be left out for a while. This will allow your child to come and go to the activity. You might find they only spend a few minutes there the first time you offer a play scene, but if you can leave it out all day, you’ll probably find your child comes and goes to the activity off on and throughout the day as they begin to feel more confident and interested in the ideas.
What if Your Child Still Isn’t Interested in Imaginative Play?
If you set up a fabulous imaginative play scene and your child is completely uninterested and it’s a total flop… don’t be disheartened!
Perhaps you didn’t quite find the idea or theme your child is really interested in and motivated by, or perhaps they are busy working on and practicing other skills right now, so trying again in a few months or when you see imaginative play naturally popping up in your child’s play.
You can find more of my posts about imaginative play here.
Do you have a tip or idea to share for imaginative play? Please leave a comment and share.