Paving the way for imaginative play

Our little one might be a chef one day. After all, he spends a lot of time (and I mean a LOT of time!) with little pots and pans, miniature food items and cooking utensils, blowing feverishly and waving his hands in front of the makeshift oven (a couple of nappy boxes, a shoe box and lids stuck together - see previous post months ago here)... and warning everyone in earshot that it's "! hot! hot!"

Sometimes I feel like I should help him to explore other interests, so I take the cooking bits away for a little while, to give him a chance to get (re-)acquainted with and be inspired to play with other things in his environment. Often, he'll slip back into chef role, find another container of some sort like a drum or small box, put a stacking ring or small building block in it, and resume cooking something 'hot' to feed his teddy or offer us. That is, when he's not busy taking an important, and usually hilarious, phone call on his toy phones, an old calculator, an out of use phone, or even 'thin air' - where he swaps the pretend phone from ear to ear and hand to hand as if it were the real deal!


He loves playing; play comes naturally to children; and he is definitely watching us carefully and imitating, spending a lot of time enjoying symbolic and imaginative play.

So, I have a couple of questions to explore: 
1. How much adult involvement, if any, should a child have when it comes to play?
2. What might be the best ways to promote opportunities for plenty of symbolic and imaginative play, which we know is important in developing many skills including physical, social, emotional, cognitive and language skills.

To start things off, here are some givens:
1. It's about the process, not the product (immersing in the experience, with little concern of how nice the drawing looks, how 'in tune' the singing, ...)
2. It's about mess (create areas for mess, wear rough play clothes & /or smock, encourage help to clean up at the end, but during the playing - let the mess reign supreme!)
3. The child is the leader, it's their world of play. Adult interest, praise & support are OK ("mmm.... this soup is delicious!"), otherwise take a back seat as the child is the driver here and provide assistance only as required by the child - ("More...water, spoons, sand, buckets.....")
4. We can make sure the play space has plenty of materials/props for imaginative play.
* Dress ups: old clothes, hats, gloves, and costume bits and pieces...
* Open-ended items: cardboard boxes, empty paper towel/cling film rolls, tins, (so... heaps of clean stuff from the recycling bin!) sticks, material (blankets, towels, pillows), general household and garden 'bits' to be dragged around and used as required (chairs, laundry baskets)
* Dolls, teddies and stuffed animal toys make great props for imaginative play - they can be patients at the hospital, guests at the tea party, babies to be dressed, read to, sung to and put to sleep...
* Puppets are also great props - but kids may require a little more help to get started with them.
* ... and we can help when particular items are not easily found "I need a steering wheel!" can start the hunt for paper plates, large plastic lids, etc... or suggesting that something could be made - "you could dig and mold yourself a car in the sand"
6. Kids are great imitators - so demonstrating imaginative play, and giving them the opportunity to play with older kids can promote more imaginative play!
7. Expose him/her to the arts (galleries, museums, sculptures in the park, concerts, shows, dances, puppet shows ...)
8. Read a lot/ tell a lot of stories. Make books a part of every day!

A great site: at this link had these additional top ideas, some to keep in mind now - others to perhaps try as Master B. gets a little older ...
  1. Look at the clouds and take turns imagining what they resemble.
  2. Make up stories with your child, building on each other's additions.
  3. Arrange play dates with others to foster social and imaginative play.
  4. Listen to music with your child and act out how it sounds (sleepy, happy).
  5. Take turns "being" things that begin with each letter of the alphabet.
  6. Sometimes be your child's play partner, sometimes just observe.
  7. Use your own imagination and awaken your own inner child.
Joani Lackie-Callighan writes a great piece on encouraging imaginative play here on the site: where she also highlights the highly valuable but often overlooked downtime for kids: "Doing absolutely nothing allows your child to enter into an inner quiet and find a balance between the outer-world. It is during this downtime that your child is actually learning and creating memory."

    ...So, while I continue to look into the questions above, our little boy may be a great chef one day.... or a truck driver, pilot, fire fighter, train driver, animal trainer, gardener, musician, puppy dog, kitten or giraffe! Actually, whatever he will become, he will do so with the developmental tools he needs, so long as we can keep the imaginative play opportunities rich and abundant!

    What ideas have you come across to fuel imaginative play?


    1. I'm not sure what he will do in the future, but I'm pretty confident that whatever he does, will be, as Master B would say: "oh, hot, hot, hot!"

    2. He has that many days ahead of him, that he will 'want to be' many many things. I think children have stages they will eventually grow out of, that is not to say that someday he will love to cook again, or even aspire to become a chef.

      I think an adults influence is no doubt where his imagination starts, so yes, an adult must spend time playing with a child. But, he also will need his OWN time to create what he wants. So yeah, it is a fine balance, like most things in life. I think you all are doing a great job anyhow, so keep going.


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