12 Ideas to Support Imaginative Play

Imaginative play, sometimes called Pretend Play or role-playing, is any kind of play that lets a child use their imagination to create another world! It can be anything from an alien invasion to just pretending to clean up.

Imaginative Play is an important part of health child development that has many benefits! It helps children develop empathy (as children put themselves in new scenarios), builds emotional maturity, helps language development, and supports creativity! And the best part? It keeps your little one super happy - kids love to play!

Toddlers typically start pretending by acting out what they’ve already seen adults doing - cleaning, cooking, talking on the phone, or driving in the car

Around 2 years old, your little one will develop skills for more symbolic thinking - they can answer a banana for a phone call and let objects start to stand in for another. As they get older, the symbolic object will start to vary from the real object more and more. They may no longer need to use a keychain to take a car ride, but let a block serve as a set of keys!

Once your little one reaches 3-4 years, they will start to develop more elaborate play scenarios with character and story lines. It’s time for a tea party, a dragon guarding a castle, or an epic battle!

12 Ideas for Imaginative Play

1. Climb a mountain (or a chair, pile of cushions, or step stool). When you get to the top, use a paper towel roll to look out across the valley. You may even need to use a rope for extra support!

2. Read a book with your little one. Help support your child’s imagination by showing them different places, people, and scenarios in books!

3. The floor is lava! Set up your Play Blocks (or couch cushions will work too) and let you little one jump from block to block. The floor is lava and you need to get across the room!

4. Explore a cave or tunnel. Make a tunnel using play blocks, couch cushions, or blankets. Bonus points if there’s hidden treasure (aka fruit snacks) hidden inside! Bigger kids may need a flashlight to help explore.

5. Set up a tent in the living room or back yard for an afternoon of camping! You can even make a fire from blankets and eat marshmallows - no matches needed!

6. Pretend to be someone (or something) else - a chef, a firefighter, a musician, or maybe a silly monster! Dress-ups are a great way for your little one to express themselves. Don’t worry if you don’t have any costumes - kids love wearing dad’s ties, mom’s old jewelry, socks for gloves, oversized jackets, or whatever you have at home already!

7. Create an elaborate race track with ups and downs. The race may take you through the kitchen, living room, and even down the stairs. On your mark, get set, GO!

8. Build a house (or a castle or a fort). One of the best ways to support imaginative play is to help your little one build a new place to play - whether it’s a fort or a house. This is a great way to incorporate two activities in one - first build the new space and then take time to role play in the space!

9. Explore the ocean, go swimming, or hunt for treasure. Dive into a pool of pretend! Explore the ocean floors and practice holding your breath while you look at sea creatures or try to swim against the waves. The ball pit is a great place to go for a quick dip.

10. Create a stage for gymnastics or dance. If you have a little performer, give them a stage (or just a mat) to use! They might be a pop star, a ballerina, or a gymnast at the Olympics.

11. Go on a magic carpet ride. Let your little one explore the world - from the view of a magic carpet! Travel across the globe or to another planet entirely, but make sure to hang on tight! This is a ride you don’t want to fall off of!

12. Saddle up the horses. Full steam ahead on imagination, and don’t spare the horses! Save your own back and let your little one trot around on a pretend horse (or car or rocket or motorcycle)!

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