Follow Your Child's Lead
Empathize and Improvise
Just Go With It
Take a page out of stage training for improv actors by adopting the orientation of “yes, and...” that makes scenes keep going. Whatever your child comes up with (assuming it's safe and appropriate), your response should be, “and then what?”
In this way, you become a true partner in your children's self-directed play and learning. They will love you for it, and it will be more fun than you can imagine.
Give children lots of indoor and outdoor play opportunities, time, and encouragement to be imaginative. These days, limiting screen time, electronic toys, smart phones and computers are also important because their seductive power can take the place of important imaginary play. Children who say they are "bored" and want to play video games often have not have enough chances to exercise their imagination muscles!
Adults Add Richness to Children's Play
Children's play, especially in the early years, is richer when adults play along, provide props, use vocabulary and support what the child is trying to do. It's important, however, to let children take the lead and for adults to follow along or be directed by children when joining in their play. Young kids love it when you allow them to "make" you stand, dress or behave in a way they want. The payoff can be some hilarious, family bonding moments. It's helpful to know the ages and stages of infant, toddler and preschooler play.
Some parents are fearful of behaving in silly ways with their children. Will parents still be respected? Will their authority undermined? Rest reassured - even if parents take a playful, submissive or subservient role during playtime, their authority with children remains intact.
Easy Ways to Encourage Imaginary Play
- Create a prop box filled with objects that spark imagination. Include costumes, old clothes, wigs, and hats for dress-up, cooking utensils, old telephones, and other objects from around the house, boxes and containers of various sizes, stuffed animals and dolls, blankets and fabrics, even object from nature like rocks and sticks.
- When buying toys for your child, look for toys that have many potential uses—a puppet theater with a variety of puppets or a wide range of art supplies will encourage your child to use their imagination in their play.
- If your child engages in imaginary play with you, follow their lead. Don't take over by questioning, instructing or intruding on her contributions to the play theme.
- Try not to interrupt children's play. If you must take your astronaut to the grocery store, let him stay in his space suit for the excursion. When it's time to eat lunch, maybe he can eat in his refrigerator box-turned-space-capsule.
- Think your child is too young for creative play? The surprise element of peek-a-boo and jack-in-the-box gear infants up for creative play later in life. Even picture books and stuffed animals can be used to spark the imagination.
In our busy lives we often don’t allow ourselves the time to be creative and cultivate our own imaginations. If this is true for you, take a cue from your child with the banana in her hand and pick up your own banana with a resounding, “Hello!”
Imaginative Play - A Vital Tool for Optimum Child Brain Development. (2010) Brainy Child Web Site
Once Upon A Time: The Importance of Pretend Play. (2009) Toddlers Today Web Site
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills. (2008) NPR Web Site
Tough, Paul. The Make-Believe Solution. New York Times Magazine. September 27, 2009.
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