7 Benefits of Imaginative Play and Why it Matters

“Bow-wow!” your little one barks enthusiastically as another child pats her on the head. Two preschoolers imagining they are a dog and dog owner, superheroes, or pretending to play house is a common scene. While it may seem ordinary and unimportant, imaginative play is essential for children’s development. 

Read on to learn what imaginative play is, the benefits of imaginative play, and how you can encourage this type of play in your home. 

What is Imaginative Play?

Imaginative play, make-believe play or pretend play is an open-ended type of free play. Children often pretend to be someone else, such as a teacher, a mother, or even an animal. During imaginative play, children can do something as simple as serving pretend food in a “restaurant” or come up with elaborate storylines involving magic and fantastical thinking. 

When do kids start pretend play?

Children start playing pretend as young as 14 months of age! At this age, imaginative play is simple. They might pretend to feed a doll or teddy bear or imagine that they are taking a nap. Pretend play can last throughout childhood, changing and morphing as children grow. Some adults still engage in pretend play through theater, video games, art, and other venues. 

Why is pretend play important?

Imaginative play is so important in childhood development. In fact, it’s such a hallmark of childhood, that when children don’t organically engage in pretend play, it may be a sign that your child needs support. Pretend play is important because it helps children develop skills that will serve them as they grow older. 

7 Benefits of Imaginative Play

There are numerous benefits of imaginative play. Here are just a few:

  • Language Skills
  • While playing, children talk to their playmates. When they take on other personas such as fairies, superheroes, or teachers, they practice using new vocabulary, tones of voice, and personalities. 

  • Social Skills
  • Pretend play gives children the chance to interact with others. They model social skills they see in the world during pretend play. Plus, they must also solve disagreements such as who plays which role, sharing toys and props, etc. 

  • Building Concentration
  • During early childhood, children must build their attention span slowly. Pretend play gives kids the opportunity to practice building their concentration. 

  • Emotional Development
  • In Imaginative play, children take on new roles and explore what it must feel like to be a father, teacher, or even a pet. This can help kids build empathy. In addition, children pretend to feel certain emotions and practice reacting to other people’s emotions. This helps them build their emotional awareness. 

  • Problem Solving Skills
  • Plenty of problems can arise during pretend play. From a fort that won’t hold up properly to solving a disagreement or coping when things don’t go as they’d planned, there are plenty of opportunities for practicing problem-solving skills. 

  • Builds Life Skills
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of life skills. When children play restaurant or house, they practice preparing food, cleaning, sweeping, caring for children, and more. While they may only appear to be copying adults, this actually prepares them for real-life situations. 

  • Encourages Exercise and Motor Skill Development
  • Imaginative play is active and filled with movement. Children may climb, jump, or run while playing. Plus, children also develop fine motor skills during certain types of imaginative play. For example, if children play school, they might spend time drawing or writing letters. 

    How to Encourage Imaginative Play

    Imaginative play brings so many benefits. Knowing this, it’s natural to wonder how you can encourage it more at home. Here are some ideas:

    • Make sure your child has free time. Children’s pretend play is often a natural outcome of having unstructured time at home or with friends. So, ensure your child has time every day to play. That may mean they have to be a little bored first!
    • Offer your child open-ended toys. Open-ended toys are toys that can be used in multiple ways, like wooden blocks, mini stepping stones, or a surfer board. Even the Pikler Triangle can be imagined as a mountain, a cave, or used as a bridge for cars! 
    • Create a fun play space. This space can be a haven for imaginative play, where your child can spread out, build forts, create a pretend doctor’s office, or even imagine a castle.  
    • Play with your child. Even if you just set aside 10 minutes to be involved in your child’s play, that can mean a lot. It will be a great point of connection and infuse new ideas into your child’s play. 

    Children’s pretend play is an essential part of childhood. Not only is it fun, but it can help your child build crucial skills that will serve them socially, academically, and beyond!