What is imaginative play? Is it important for kids?

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Find out about what clinical psychologist Rachael Tan has to say about the benefits of imaginative play, and also how Barbie encourages kids to engage in imaginative play...

My 4-year-old boy has a magical imagination. He talks of sparkly blue dragons, hippos that transport people and dinosaurs that live in volcanoes.

When his best friend and neighbour — a 5-year-old-girl — comes to play with him, it’s a delight to see them play together. Much of their play is based on imagination.

imaginative play

Imaginative play – Kids love using their imagination to engage in make-believe play.

Their favourite game is “Mummy and Daddy.” They role-play everything from going to work to cooking, and putting Barbie “baby” to bed!

I’m sure all you parents with young kids are very familiar with this kind of play — whether it’s your little girl playing in her make-believe kingdom with princess Barbie, or your little boy pretending to be an astronaut.

This kind of play where kids use their imagination is called imaginative play, and is a wonderful thing that’s as old as the hills. Thankfully, it still exists in this high-tech age of electronic gadgets.

imaginative play

Find out why imaginative play is important for your child on the next page.

Have you ever wondered exactly what imaginative play is and why it’s important for kids?

We asked Rachael K. Tan, an endorsed clinical psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia, some questions about imaginative play.

What is imaginative play?

Imaginative play happens when children take on roles and experiences they might have had or are of interest to them during solitary play or play with others.

For example, your little girl might use a band-aid to fix Barbie after she falls down the stairs, or your little boy might stick a patch over his eye and fight his father with a ruler on a ship made of pillows!

imaginative play

Imaginative play lets your child be a doctor, princess or astronaut — whatever she desires!

Why is imaginative play important?

It fosters creativity: Imaginative play provides a safe space for children to act out whatever they like, including situations they may not be able to experience in real life. For example, a 5-year-old who is unable to go to a restaurant without her parents can, through imaginative play with her friend, create a pretend tea party they can both enjoy at home.

It supports physical development in a fun way: When a little girl tries to fit Barbie’s arms through the arm-holes of her mini jacket, she is getting good practice in hand-eye coordination, while learning to move and control her fingers in different ways.

– It helps kids to practice and develop their language and social skills simply by being with and talking to other children.

imaginative play

Imaginative play encourages your child to be creative

It boosts development of problem solving and self-regulation skills: Imaginative play with peers brings up situations where not everyone gets what they want. For example, when more than one child wants to be King of the castle, the child who doesn’t get what he wants needs to learn how to manage unpleasant emotions in order for play to continue.

It lets adults teach positive behaviour to their kids: Parents can introduce make-believe situations into play to create “incidental learning” opportunities.

For example, when giving Barbie a shower, the parent can use questions (e.g., What happens next?), comments (e.g., That water is nice and warm) and dilemmas (e.g., Oh no, Dolly ran out of soap!). These teach the child important functional skills and to work through tricky situations with guidance.

imeaginative play

It’s important for parents to encourage imaginative play among their kids.

How can parents encourage kids to participate in imaginative play?

– Provide plenty of props, play partners (both similar-aged peers as well as adults) and play time.

– Dress-up parties are also a great way to both promote imaginary play and keep children entertained!

– Involve them in your daily chores and incorporate incidental learning into these situations. For example, while you are preparing dinner, you might invite your child to cook alongside you with their play items.

Imaginative play

Encourage more imaginative play and less screen time for your child

Why is imaginative play even more important in today’s digital age?

These days, it’s hard to spot a kid who doesn’t have an electronic tablet or other electronic gadget. However, play with these gadgets is predominantly a solitary activity.

Because of this, parents need to ensure that their children do not miss out on the direct human interactions essential for their social, cognitive and emotional development.

They can do this by limiting their kids’ use of electronic devices and providing plenty of opportunities for imaginative play and socialisation with other children.

What’s the right age to introduce imaginative play to a child?

There is no set age to introduce imaginative play into a child’s world. You can start by introducing simple items that are safe for the child, such as a soft toy. Create situations as well to engage that item in play, like having your child’s Barbie doll give her a kiss on the cheek.

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Restrict screen-time and promote imaginative play with tactile toys.

Are there any disadvantages to imaginative play?

Absolutely none! But, if a child often behaves in a way during play that causes harm either to himself or others, or if a child develops a strong preference for solitary imaginary play at the expense of social play, it may be worth seeking the advice of a qualified child development professional.

For more about Rachael Tan and her practice, click here.

Barbie and imaginative play

We all know that tactile toys such as Barbie Dolls encourage kids to engage in imaginative play in exactly the way described above.

As Barbie celebrates 55 years of imaginative play this year, it seems appropriate to find out what Mattel Inc. thinks about imaginative play.

Here’s what Ms. Petrina Kho, country manager of Mattel Southeast Asia Pte Ltd., has to say:

Mattel, Inc. strongly believes that imaginative play is an essential part of child’s cognitive and social development and Barbie helps nurture and cultivate girls’ imagination through the transformative nature of fashion and aspirational play. With more than 150 careers under her belt, she continually empowers girls and their creativity to inspire them to believe that anything is possible.”  

imaginative play

Mattel Inc. prides itself on providing high quality tactile toys such as Barbie Dolls that promote imaginative play among kids.

We also asked Ms. Fong Jia Li, marketing manager of Girls, Mattel Southeast Asia Pte. Ltd., a couple of questions about Barbie, Mattel toys and imaginative play:

What other Mattel toys foster imaginative play in kids?

“Mattel believes that play is essential to children’s development and benefits kids in vital ways and it is the quintessential element for all toys developed under the Mattel brands. This includes brands such as Monster High, Hot Wheels and Fisher Price which have an extensive line of dolls, figurines and playsets.”

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Boys too can join in the fun with Mattel toys such as Barbie!

Is Barbie exclusively for girls? How can boys engage in imaginative play with Barbie?

“While Barbie Doll is generally targeted at girls, it does not set out to exclude boys. Boys can engage in imaginative play with Barbie and Ken via story-telling and role playing different scenarios.”

Parents, now that you know the benefits of imaginative play, we hope you find many ways of encouraging your child to engage in it with his/her friends, toys and you.

Enter your child’s magical imaginary world, and you may just discover your own inner child!

How does your child engage in imaginative play? Share your thoughts with us by leaving a comment.