Many of the memories I have of my childhood include my two older sisters, who are close in age to me, and we played together often. On weekends and school holidays we would distract ourselves for hours, often outside on the small farm we grew up on – climbing old water tanks or spending hours in the cattle yards, pretending we were farmers hearding our flocks.
On inside days during winter, we loved to set up and act out elaborate scenes, something I now know is referred to as ‘dramatic play’, but to us was just ‘playing school’, ‘playing doctors’ or ‘playing shops’. In many of our games, one sister owned a ‘Nic Nacs’ shop, another worked at the bank, and I was the postman. We made our own pretend money out of paper, wrote business letters to each other and bought things (from the Nic Nacs shop). Other times the oldest sister would be the teacher, and my other sister and I would sit amongst our soft toys and be her students. We played variations on these games for years, until our interests changed (and hanging out with one’s little sister probably was not the done thing anymore).
So how does imaginative play help children learn?
Pretend play, dramatic play, and imaginative play are important in child development in many ways, and particularly in helping children express their knowledge and ideas about the world around them.
In an article from the Bright Horizons website, pretend play is described as being essential in the development of important complex social and higher order thinking skills.
‘Through pretend play, children learn to do things like negotiate, consider others’ perspectives, transfer knowledge from one situation to another, delay gratification, balance their own ideas with others, develop a plan and act on it, explore symbolism, express and listen to thoughts and ideas, assign tasks and roles, and synthesize different information and ideas.’
While children naturally create their own dramatic play scenarios without needing input from educators or parents, encouraging imaginative play can make it easier for them to extend their learning and fully discover their interests. This could mean simply leaving them to build their blanket fort for a bit longer, or providing them with a prop box that includes a range of materials (think hats, spatulas, puppets, safe tools or kitchen items, different materials, dinosaur toys, story stones).
We have some ideas here for provoking imaginative play which children loved, and used in even more creative ways than we ever considered! See our ideas here, and remember – dramatic play can be for adults too! Maybe you’ve always wanted to be an archaeologist uncovering ancient buried treasures, or a scientist discovering a new type of insect?
Looking for more ideas to provoke creativity with children? Have a look at the Storypark YouTube channel here.