Play is the language of children and toys are their words. Watching a child play, especially imaginative play, gives lots of insight into the child’s take on the world. Is it friendly, scary, full of problems, or a hopeful, fun place?
Imaginative play is playing with puppets, blocks, dolls, sand, dress-up clothes, trucks, anything that requires the child to create the story. Playing a board game, video game, or watching television together tends to be sedentary and discourages making up an original tale. This imaginative, free form play where the child makes it up as they go along, encourages a child’s self-expression, self-knowledge, self-actualization, and self-efficacy.
It also relieves stress and boredom, stimulates creative thinking and exploration, creates positive connections between the adult and child, and helps a child regulate their emotions. To realize these benefits the child needs to be allowed to make up the play and the story, with the adult as an observer.
Doing art projects on blank sheets of paper with stickers, markers, and crayons is also imaginative play. As the adult, don’t ask lots of questions, instead make positive comments such as, “wow, that’s interesting” and, “I like how you used lots of red in that picture.”
It’s even better if the adult is invited to join in on the fun! They get to act as a sports commentator giving a play-by-play narrative of what the child is doing. This lets the child know the adult is paying attention and the child might even give that adult a role and some instructions, so they can play together.
Being an observer or participant in play gives the adult insights into the child, allows the child to express feelings, and is just plain fun. Toys and supplies do not have to be expensive, pots and pans in the kitchen can lead to make believe cooking, pebbles and rocks outside can be people and animals. The fun of being together and seeing what the child comes up with reduces stress for all participants and can leave all with many happy memories of quality time spent together. Be creative and let imaginative play happen!