The opportunity to play freely encourages healthy development. We look at how imaginative play can benefit babies and toddlers.
It’s been found that when young children use their imaginations in play, they’re more creative, perform better at school and develop a strong problem-solving approach to learning. Experts also say that the pretending process builds skills in many essential developmental areas.
Here are five benefits of imaginative play for your baby and toddler:
When children engage in pretend play, they’re actively experimenting with the social roles of life. Dr Cathrine Neilsen-Hewett, a lecturer and researcher in child development, explains: “Imaginative play has the greatest impact on the development of key skills that are important for children’s success with peers. When playing creatively with their friends, your child learns to co-operate and compromise.”
She adds that it encourages children to participate in social activities and to understand social relationships.
There is also great value in playing with dolls and toy action figures. This form of play encourages children to learn how to interact socially and develop social cues by experimenting with eye contact, using different tones and emotions.
Children also learn to have conversations, which they enact by talking to their dolls and action figures and imagining responses. Playing with action figures also helps build self-esteem, as any child can be a hero – just by pretending.
Children can expand their vocabulary and experiment freely with words in their own space and time, without the risk of embarrassment if they use the words incorrectly. By pretend playing with others, children begin to understand that words give them the power to re-enact a story and to organise play.
Imaginative play allows your child to express both positive and negative feelings. It also helps him to work through difficult emotions and to understand them.
Children express themselves both verbally and non-verbally through imaginative play. They use all their muscles and senses to achieve this. Working with art materials like crayons, scissors, paintbrushes and play dough promotes fine motor skills and hand-eye co-ordination. To stimulate gross motor skills you can encourage percussion, dancing, mural painting or large construction projects like building tents.
Imaginative play fosters mental growth by creating opportunities for trying out new ideas, ways of thinking and problem solving. In pretend-play, children face a variety of problems to solve. Whether it’s two children who want to play the same role, or looking for the right material to use for a doll’s bed, children will use important thinking skills that they’ll use through their lives.
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