Habitot Children's Museum

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Habitot Children's Museum

Habitot Children's Museum
2065 Kittredge Street
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 647-1111

Parenting Q&A

Parenting Question of the Month How can I encourage my child’s imaginary play?


Parenting Q&AA few years ago, one of Habitot’s board members told this true story about his child. His son was really looking forward to a play date with one of his friends the upcoming weekend. His creative and imaginative son had visited Habitot many times, attended many classes and camps, and knew how to make play out of just about anything. He spent the whole week thinking about the fun they would have and actually collected piles of loose parts (straws, popsicle sticks, boxes, etc.) that he wanted to use to build a car wash with his friend. Sadly, when the play date day arrived, his friend took one look at the pile of stuff the boy had collected, and said, “do you have any computer games?”

Two messages here—one, that children who grow up relying on electronics for play may not have had enough chances to develop their imaginations and two, a family that encourages imagination and is willing to let piles of stuff accumulate for their child’s imaginary play, will likely see it.

Limiting screen time and allowing the space, time and materials for imaginary play are crucial. Here are some additional ways to encourage your child’s imaginary play:

  • Read aloud lots of books, everyday, even after they learn to read themselves. Or tell stories you make up. Use stories as jumping off places—ask your child to imagine a sequel to the story, or ask your child to describe the lives of some of the animals or characters in the stories. Even asking “what do you think will happen next?” before turning the page can activate your child’s imagination. Older children can draw pictures of stories. PS Don’t forget poetry, especially funny poems, which are great for young children.

  • Provide lightweight and silky fabrics, scarves, old clothes, shoes, hats, jewelry, baskets, belts and accessories for dress-up play. Ready-made costumes are ok, but more flexible clothing and props will produce richer imaginary play.

  • Provide lots of 'loose parts': boxes, sheets, swaths of fabric, tape, webbing, rope, wood scraps, old tires, PVC pipe, cardboard, and for older children, small hammers, nails and other tools. Make use of nature—rocks, sticks, branches can take on the identity of pieces of gold, magic wands and fishing poles. Allow creativity in how they are used unless safety is an issue.

  • Provide lots of materials for art making. Children can produce the most amazing sculptures from recycled objects—scrap from packaging and everyday products, caps from markers and bottles, old keys, plastic cups, etc. Clays and play doughs are great for forming shapes that become beads, snakes, bowls and more. Allow free expression in using art materials. Ask your child(ren) to tell you about their art. You’ll be amazed at the imaginative stories behind their artwork.

  • Play different kinds of music for your children. Ask them what the music makes them think of. Dance to music. Make art to music. Play train songs when building train tracks on the floor, sea shanties when splashing in the tub or baby pool, and the score to Swan Lake for pretend ballerinas.

  • Choose toys wisely. The most imaginary toys can be played with in multiple ways. Blocks, dolls, stuffed animals, play sets with lots of figures and parts like car wash, space station, farm, cash register, kitchen sets, etc.

  • Become a part of their imaginary world! If your child is imagining that she is a dragon, ask her to act out how dragons hunt, and eat and sleep. Ask how they move and what sounds they make. You can also ask your child what kind of animal or monster they would like you to be and what you should do together. Make up a story together about magical characters and monsters. Imagination and fantasy play may also give your child an opportunity to act out emotions that they do not have the language or ability to share.

  • Parenting Resources

    Child Development Guide. Stages of Play During Childhood Development. 2007-2012. Web Site: http://www.child-development-guide.com/stages-of-play-during-child-development.html

    Kids Life. Creative Parenting: Engaging Children In Fun Activities. 2011. Web Site: http://www.kidslife.com.au/Page.aspx?ID=1769

    Ginsburg, Kenneth R., MD, MSEd. The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. AAP, January 2007. Article: http://www2.aap.org/pressroom/playFINAL.pdf

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