The role of imaginative play in early childhood development

 “Imaginative play has the greatest impact on the development of key skills that are important for children’s success with peers.” 

Dr. Catherine Neilsen-Hewett, Lecturer and researcher in child development. 

Imaginative play is the child initiated, child led play that is creative open ended play with no goals. It does not have to be role play it can be anything from using a stick found in the garden to poke around in the mud, constructing with blocks, moving to music or exploring paint to see what happens when colours are mixed. This exploration with no expectations allows children to be creative, test out their ideas and see what happens. Language skills are developed as children express their ideas and talk about what they are doing.

Imaginative play with others provides a social experience, an opportunity for shared language and an exchange of ideas. Children take turns and work together to decide who will do what and which role they will take. “I will be the mum and you are the sister,” they agree. As play advances the need for props arise and these are found – a piece of card becomes a phone and a blanket a bed for a dog. A notepad and pen can encourage developmental writing as lists are made. Anything is possible as children make their own rules and use their imagination, gaining an understanding of social boundaries. An environment rich with real objects to stimulate creativity, promote problem solving and allow connections to be made is essential to inspire imaginative play. Children need time and space to work things out for themselves. Books and stories can be a useful stimulation for imaginative play, giving children a starting point and a general theme to their play. Incorporating and adapting what they have learned and understood is a vital skill for future learning.

Learning to recognise and control their emotions can be a difficult challenge for young children. When given the autonomy to choose what to play with and how to do things children are generally much happier and this can lead to increased self-confidence, social confidence and independence with less reliance on adults to amuse them.