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A father plays with his child through a window made of cardboard boxes

The Art of Imaginative Play & How to Cultivate It.

What is imaginative play?

Imaginative play has the power to transform ordinary spaces and objects into extraordinary places and tools. A child is able to create a rich and highly amusing experience using a box, a toilet paper roll or any other everyday item you can find around your home. Simple items allow them to become heroes or heroines as they invent challenges, solve problems, overcome adversity and create beauty. 

A child plays and draws with markers on a wooden table

Joy.

Dig down deep into the core of imaginative play and you will find joy – the rush of adrenalin as she conquers a dragon, or the bout of laughter as he adorn a costume and become a beloved character. Joy simulates happy hormones, allowing children to become anything they desire. Your little one's brain evolves, grows and creates new synapses as he or she experience the joy of pretending. Allowing time in the day for children to simply be, alone and without the outside world suffocating their imagination and creativity, will build a foundation that will serve them long into their adult life. 

Two children smile and laugh while laying on a colourful blanket.

Read your heart out!

We all know that reading is a great way to build vocabulary but it is also a fantastic primer for developing a rich imagination within your child. Make reading fun by trying these activities:

  • Think back to your favourite childhood story, find it at your local bookstore, library or dust it off the shelf.
  • Set aside some time and read the story out loud with your child – try adding some fun voices!
  • Act out the story together with your child to build long-lasting memories.
  • Read to your child every day.
  • Build your collection of books or access your local library and make sure your child is involved in the selection process.
  • Audiobooks are also wonderful tools to inspire your child to listen and imagine the world and characters in their own magical way.

A child in a flower crown reads a book while sitting on the ground outside.

Invitation to play.

A wonderful way to inspire your child to put on their imaginative cap and open their minds to new adventures is through invitation to play. Here’s how it works:

  • Grab a set of items, tools, books, toys etc. Lay them out on the floor or a surface of your choice.
  • Let your child discover these items all on their own – no instruction, demonstration or modelling.
  • If your child struggles to get going, simply model one outcome of play that could come from the objects you have prepared.
  • Your invitation to play can involve a theme and have a learning goal in mind, however, the goal is for to allow your child’s imagination lead the way.
  • There is no right or wrong way of playing!
  • If you are having trouble getting started, take a few minutes to look up invitation to play on the Internet for inspiration.
  • Some of my favourite invitations involve magnetic blocks, modelling clay/dough, melting ice, mirrors, and art supplies.
A child plays with cork rings and blocks.

Choose toys wisely.

When buying toys for your little ones, opt for building blocks and tiles made from natural materials, non-toxic dyes and soft colours. Not only are they more durable than plastic toys, but they will also encourage your child to use his or her imagination as a block becomes a truck, shark or spaceship. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Choose toys that inspire creativity and imaginative play by allowing for more than one outcome, strategy or objective. (For example, a doll without a face will encourage children to explore a variety of emotions).
  • Look for toys that engage multiple areas of the brain and provide a challenge such as problem solving.
  • Build up a varied collection of puzzles, art supplies and cooperative board and card games.
  • Invest in a good set of quality and versatile building blocks. (For example, magnetic blocks that stick together in multiple orientations, on cookies sheets, and on the side of the fridge lead to multiple creative possibilities).
  • Make these creative options readily available in your home by ensuring that all games and puzzles are within a child’s reach.
  • Dedicate a space to being creative - where life can get messy and it's okay.

A child plays with a colourful abacus on a shaggy carpet.

When all else fails, go outdoors!

Nature can inspire us to breath deeper, let go and just be. A good stick (yes, there is a qualitative scale when it comes to sticks), a colourful leaf, a pile of branches or a climbing tree all have incredible potential to inspire imaginative play. Tree forts, winding paths, a cave, tall grasses, and a swimming hole can transport us to unknown worlds and give us a chance to experience life from a different vantage point, if we let them.  A child frolicks through a field of dry grass

A final thought.

Most importantly, let yourself be a part of the play. Sometimes it's okay to just watch from a far, to enjoy the outside view as your child becomes an explorer sailing across the ocean blue. However, on occasion, don’t forget to step into their imaginative world and become a part of their creative story. Let them carry you back to your carefree childhood days, even if just for a few minutes. Dawn that cape, wear that crown and open your eyes to the beauty of imaginative play.

A mother and child play with toys and dance to music on a bed

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Comments

Jackie - May 5, 2021

Thank you for sharing such great ideas!! I’m going to implement some of them right away and I look forward to trying more as my son grows ♡

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