Growing Readers is a monthly article offering parents and caregivers information on early childhood development and how to foster young readers and learners.
Playing dress up, doctor, or restaurant are a familiar part of a child’s routine, but while this playtime may seem like frivolous entertainment, imaginative play is a huge method of how kids learn. As Mr. Rogers put it, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”
Imaginative play develops necessary survival skills, such as critical thinking and problem solving. It allows children to enter the world of adults before they actually have to live it. During imaginative play, children can step outside themselves to think as another person or creature, which develops empathy and social skills. Imaginative play builds confidence, sensory awareness, and narrative skills.
- Make a fort with cushions and blankets.
- Sing songs like “Old MacDonald had a Farm,” but add silly animals like giraffes or unicorns. What sounds would those animals make?
- Pretend to be a bird and fly around the house. Make bird noises and eat worms (of the gummy variety).
- Find shapes in clouds.
- Pretend you are a seed and grow. Are you a vegetable? Tree? Flower? What do plants need to make them grow?
- Imagine that a laundry basket is a car, and drive your child around the house. Make car noises. Ask them where they want to go.
- Set up a pretend farmers market. Go shopping and talk about the foods they “bought.” Use those foods to make a recipe together.
- Read a fairytale, and then use puppets or dolls to retell the story.
“Some of my favorite books about kids using their imaginations are ‘The Squiggle’ by Carole Lexa Schaefer and ‘If...’ by Sarah Perry,” says Miss Andrea, Early Literacy Librarian. “I also love ‘Not a Box’ by Antoinette Portis because empty cardboard boxes mean hours of imaginative play.”