TO PLAY OR TO LEARN? 5 BENEFITS OF IMAGINATIVE PLAY.

imaginative play

For their children to succeed, parents usually think that they should steer their minds away from playing and get them focused on academics. Pretend play, also called an imaginative play, has been proven to develop skills employers are looking for, and it also is the foundation of abstract thought. Thus, the question today is not whether you should encourage your child to study more or let him/her play. The question is how to encourage your child to engage in imaginative play as much as possible. This article aims to show ways to do so and will also list some of the benefits of this type of game and explain why it is so important for your child’s development.

What is an imaginative play?

This type of play, also called pretend play, make-believe play or symbolic play, entails acting out different stories. During this process of acting, children play with emotions and ideas forcing them to decide between many possible scenarios [3]. For example, when you see your child enjoying an elegant tea party with his or her teddy bears or become a part of a superhero/superheroine group with friends, you are witnessing the imaginative play.

Children develop the ability to pretend very early in their childhood, around 18 months [1]. At this age, the imaginative play associates with the infant’s ability to recognize relationships between objects and the actions related to them. For example, the child first recognizes that a cup is connected to drinking. Next, they use sounds or gestures to indicate drinking. Finally, the child will start to combine this knowledge and begin using an object similar to a cup to feed his/her tea party teddy bears [6]. This pattern gets more complex with age, peaking when children are pretending for longer periods of time when the parents start taking notice of it, or when the child vocalizes that they are pretending [5].

How is this beneficial for my child?

Many parents worry that imaginative play is a waste of time, or that their child may go too far and lose sight of reality [5]. While these fears are understandable, it is imperative to note that this is a healthy and even beneficial part of a child’s life.

  • Imaginative play encourages the cognitive development of a child. Research has shown improvements in their executive functions (higher functions that allow people to act more goal-oriented and adaptive). These children also have a better working memory which means they can manipulate information as they process it. Also, they are better at shifting their attention from one task to the other [8], helping to promote logical reasoning. Each developed scenario has its logic that they must continue to recall, involving lots of reasoning and attention to detail [5].
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of emotional abilities and emotional regulatory skills as well [5]. While engaging in this sort of game, children have to act out emotions, which in turn helps them express their emotions later. Highly emotional games such as “playing doctor” may help them cope with similar situations later in life [4].
  • Children might be pre-exercising for skills they will find useful later in life. For example, playing “house” entails a lot of recollection of things they see their parent(s) doing every day. Acting these scenarios out may help them succeed in a parenting role later in life [7].
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of generic knowledge. Accomplished through the authenticity of their imagined world/scenario, generic knowledge is useful in following verbal instructions [7].
  • Social skills are also being nurtured through imaginative play as this type of game usually involves the presence or imagining of others. Children learn how to initiate and sustain the social relationship. They also start to acknowledge that they are not the only ones in the story, thus losing their egocentricity and considering other people while creating or modifying the story [5].

How do I encourage this behavior?

With a bit of patience, time and imagination, this should be easy and fun!

As a parent, you can get involved in your child’s game by imitating. If you notice that he or she is pretending to be something or someone, your first step should be to get involved in the dialogue according to the scenario. By asking questions about the character or story you inadvertently extend their playing by forcing them to expand upon their imaginary world and to come up with alternate scenarios.

Exposing your child to new experiences gives them more material to pull from when playing. These new experiences and a few props can lead to extended play time and some unique stories.

While encouraging your child to pretend, it is important always to make them feel that they are in control of the story. Let them know that you are only there as a part of the story and they can decide how it ends.

Finally, playing and learning are synonymous to each other. Imaginative play encourages cognitive development, emotional regulatory skills, generic knowledge, and social skills. Being involved in your child’s imagination is stimulating and educational for them, and fun for you!

References:

  1. Bosco, F. M., Friedman, O., & Leslie, A. M. (2006). Recognition of pretend and real actions in play by 1- and 2-year-olds: Early success and why they fail. Cognitive Development, 21(1), 3–10. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2005.09.006
  2. How To Encourage Pretend Play Just Pretending : How to Encourage Pretend Play and to Support Young Children in the Land of Make Believe. (2016), (July).
  3. Kaufman, S. B. P. D. (2012). The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development. Retrieved December 26, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201203/the-need-pretend-play-in-child-development
  4. Lillard, A. S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., & Smith, E. D. (2013). The impact of pretend play on children’s development: A review of the evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 1–34. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0029321
  5. Narvaez, D. (2014). Is Pretend Play Good for Kids ? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201404/is-pretend-play-good-kids
  6. Orr, E., & Geva, R. (2015). Symbolic play and language development. Infant Behavior and Development, 38, 147–161. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.01.002
  7. Sutherland, S. L., & Friedman, O. (2013). Just pretending can be really learning: Children use pretend play as a source for acquiring generic knowledge. Developmental Psychology, 49(9), 1660–8. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0030788
  8. Thibodeau, R. B., Gilpin, A. T., Brown, M. M., & Meyer, B. A. (2016). The effects of fantastical pretend-play on the development of executive functions: An intervention study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 145, 120–138. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2016.01.001
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