It was without any planning that our most recent trip to the library resulted in reading bedtime stories that assume the wonderful imaginations of our children are based more in reality that those of their parents. My eldest is definitely at the age where he is constantly at war within himself, trying to figure out what is real, what is play-play and what is in his best interests to believe in (i.e. Father Christmas and the Tooth Mouse).
We came home with two wonderful books:
- “I want my light on!” by Tony Ross
- “There’s no such thing as a dragon” by Jack Kent
I want my light on! is the story of a little princess who doesn’t want to go to bed, because she believes there are ghosts in her room, despite all the palace staff trying to convince her otherwise. In a lovely twist, the book ends with the little ghost convincing his mom that little girls are real.
There’s no such thing as a dragon is of a similar theme, although perhaps with a slightly more poignant theme for us to take note of. The little boy’s dragon grows bigger and bigger, eventually carrying the family’s house away on his back, just so that he will get noticed, taken seriously, and that the parents will believe he is real.
These books highlight the role of imagination in early development, specifically in toddlers and preschool children. Reading plays a vital role in the development of imaginative narrative, that the children then play out in their play routines. While dragons, fairies, ghosts and the like show evidence of the child’s community’s beliefs, they also play a significant part in shaping the child’s world view.
What should imaginative play look like?
Between 18 and 24 months toddlers will start to play their first pretend games, acting out things that they see the adults in their lives do. This may include talking on the phone, cooking, driving a car.
By two years, they understand that an object could stand for something else e.g. this spoon could be my “phone”. They also like to pretend e.g. that they’re eating. I couldn’t believe it when my husband taught my toddler to fake sleep, eyes closed and snoring and all! It was definitely his first demonstration of understanding “play-play”.
As the child nears their third birthday they will really enter the world of imaginary play. You can look forward to more complicated scenes: boats and railways, tea parties, fight scenes and careers start to emerge. By age four they’ve moved from action and sound effects to complicated story lines and character traits.
So how can you as a parent foster this vital form of play in your child?
- Read read read! Books are a wonderful way to develop imaginative skills, abstract thinking and an understanding of story lines.
- Provide your child with props for their play time. These need not resemble anything in particular. Old curtain rings, wooden blocks and pieces of material can be used to create all sorts of scenes.
- Keep some old clothes for dress up and role play. These could be specific outfits from a school dress up day such as a doctor or princess, or a collection of hats, jewellery and shoes that they can use as their hearts desire.
- Get on the floor and play! There’s a fine line between teaching your children to play on their own, and promoting their play by acting as their play partner. If your child invites you into their story, by all means play along. Ask questions: What happened next? Who is this? Who am I?
Imaginative play is such a wonderful phase of development. Your child will develop their cognitive and social skills, as well as test out their own theories of how the world works. It is their safe space to explore interactions, sequences and consequences.
The information provided in this article is intended to foster a playful spirit in homes and to provide parents with ideas. This blog cannot replace a consultation with a health professional. If you have any concerns about your child’s development please seek individualized advice.