Each of these children is engaging in imaginative play – the kind of play wherein they role play and act out stories in an unstructured and open-ended way. These scenarios can be based on things the child has experienced, or seen, or hopes to experience – the possibilities are truly infinite. And while some may shrug off imaginative play as the mere fancies of small children, in reality it plays a vital role in their cognitive, social, and emotional development. Check out just a few of its many benefits!
- Imaginative play gives kids the chance to relax and simply “be kids.” Our children’s lives are full of many scheduled activities – school, homework, sports, music lessons, youth groups. Imaginative play gives them a chance to let go and engage with their creativity in an unscheduled way, where the goal is simply the play itself rather than the production of a finished product.
- Imaginative play allows children to process confusing or new experiences. If you’ve ever watched a small group of children playing “doctor” line up to receive their “shots”, you’ve seen this in action. Kids can work through many confusing and challenging personal events through the act of pretending.
- Imaginative play can lead to an increase in kids’ use of language and in their ability to create multiple storylines, ideas, and points of view.
Beginning at a few years of age, most children start to engage in a form of play that often goes hand-in-hand with imaginative play – this is known as collaborative play. Children engaged in this kind of collaboration play as part of a group, working together toward a common goal or within a shared scenario. Imaginative, collaborative play can hold many benefits for children, particularly in their social and emotional development. Imaginative, collaborative play leads children to solve problems, cooperate, and utilize flexible thinking as it requires advanced thinking and social skills. Kids learn to:
- Negotiate and consider another’s perspective.
- Balance their own ideas with those of others as they learn to express their own thoughts and listen to those of their playmates.
- Delay their own gratification.
- Assign and accept tasks and roles in a way that fosters cooperation rather than antagonism.
These social and emotional benefits are huge! The way we interact with others is key in our life-long happiness and success. Knowing how to read social cues, how to take turns and negotiate, how to solve problems creatively and to the mutual benefit of all involved – these are certainly abilities we want our children to take with them into adulthood. Children who participate in this imaginative, collaborative play will be well equipped to engage creatively and cooperatively with the challenges they meet as they grow and mature.