Children who have yet to begin school can have the most astounding imaginations and be seemingly more involved in their play than in real life. From fairy tale adventures to superhero role play, younger kids are often happy to exist within their imaginary lives for long periods. However, there can be a downside, particularly when toddlers and younger children focus on negative imaginary ideas, such as monsters. Before children get into school and start to engage in more formal learning, it can be frequently beneficial to use imaginary play as a chance to learn about the world and to help deal with what is real and what is not in a safe way that makes kids feel comfortable.
Firstly, it should be said that there is nothing wrong with pre-schoolers letting their imaginations run wild. However, if parents and carers can organise imaginary play, then it can have an additional educational benefit on top of its basic play value. For example, some children have anxieties which can be worked through via imaginary play. This can work better than simply talking to a child about their concerns in a rational way because many younger kids often don't have the mental development necessary for this to offer reassurance. If your child is worried about something, then exploring it through role play will commonly lead to their concerns diminishing or even disappearing completely.
A good example of this approach is when children are transitioning from a home environment to a nursery. By playing a game called 'nursery' at home, preschool age children will become accustomed to the ideas involved of moving into a kindergarten environment. In such a game the 'rules' can be loose, but you should encourage your child to play the role of both teacher and pupil – both leading and following. Equally, if you have a check-up due with the doctor or the dentist, then playing a game where the child can take the role of both the patient and the medical professional involved can be beneficial. When involved in such imaginary play, explore what might happen and focus on positive outcomes. This way, kids will soon get to understand that such visits and transitions are a normal part of life that we all face.
Remember that imaginary play is a great way of encouraging behaviour that you would like to see in your child, not just a means of mitigating for potential anxieties. Before children can actually read, it can be beneficial to play imaginary reading games with picture books, for example. This familiarises toddlers with books and gets them used to the concepts of narrative and page turning. They might even make up stories based on the pictures they see. Likewise, playing with 'tea sets' and 'plastic food' can help children to eat better at real meal times. This is because it can lead to them to feeling more confident trying foods they are not familiar with and, by using imaginative play to explore meal times, it can positively encourage them to remain focussed on their real meals for longer.Share