Want smarter kids? Get their imaginations going. That’s what the research says, anyway. For years, doctors have argued the necessity of playtime for a child’s healthy development. Now, newer studies show that imaginative play during early childhood can affect a student’s academic performance through high school!
So, what exactly is imaginative play (and how can I encourage my child to engage in it)? Imaginative play, also known as “dramatic play” or “pretend play”, is simply role playing or acting out experiences. Think: Building sand castles at the beach. It is not structured, but it is purposeful and involves questioning, turn-taking, and problem solving.
When I was a Pre-K teacher, concerned moms often asked me, “Where are all of the papers that my child did this week?” I never sent many home because we were busy with hands-on learning opportunities that did not always yield actual products. The mental and social outcomes that we created through “make believe”, though, were huge. Taking on roles during self-selected centers helped to prepare my students for adulthood. As they played, I witnessed an explosion of vocabulary, complex thinking, and academic readiness skills.
Is it possible to recreate this type of scenario outside of the school setting? Yes. Pretend play does not need to be expensive or complicated! One of the beauties of the imagination is that children always have it with them. The park, the swimming pool, the public library, and your own living room are all capable of providing the perfect setting for playtime.
As for equipment, use what you have, or purchase a quality product that could serve multiple purposes. Swimwear like this functions as sun protection and as a costume. Oh, and can we discuss costumes for a minute? Have you ever met a child who doesn’t like them? Costumes give kids power by transforming them into a firefighter, unicorn, or superhero and set imaginations into action.
Moms of young children, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. You do not have the time or emotional energy to “DIY” new imaginative play scenes for your child every day. (I know this because I am one of you.) Look around you. See where your child already loves to go, what creative products are on the market, and just be present today in your child’s play. You’ll be amazed at where their little brains will take them!