More Imagination Please!
Imagination is silly. Imagination is magical. Imagination is important.
Imaginative play is among the most crucial types of play children engage in growing up. It is more than make believe — it is how little ones start to make sense of the world. It is blasting off to space in the backyard and three-course dinners served to nobody. All that time spent saving dudes in distress from dragons and building towers that touch the sky provides kids a safe space to explore their environment, problem solve, and communicate with others and their inner narrative.
As your infant grows from baby to toddler to child, not only does imaginative play impact their development in the short-term but it also has benefits that carry into adulthood. This is where it gets important.
We need imagination in the future more than anything. It is the secret ingredient to unlocking a better world — one that is more connected and conscientious, with equality and sustainability at its core. Playing pretend has a tangible effect on real life.
Don’t we want grown-ups who optimistically think outside the box? Who look at the world’s greatest challenges with compassion, confidence and creativity? Who put others before themselves? This outlook is neither genetic nor generic. It needs to be fostered from the get-go and the best —funnest— way to do that is through play.
Here are the direct benefits of imaginative play that will impact your child today — and tomorrow:
1. Problem Solving
Whether she or he is installing a load-bearing chair for their blanket fort or trying to cross the river of lava formerly known as the foyer, imaginary challenges provide children opportunities to dream up practical solutions and encourages them to think creatively. As they become grownups, creative thinking will be a major asset. After all, life outside the playground is full of tricky situations to troubleshoot — both personally and professionally.
A study by Case Western Reserve University found that children who are imaginative when they're young tend to keep this quality as they get older and become better problem solvers. Tested later in life, early "imaginators" had more resources to draw on when it came to coping with challenges and difficult situations. The lesson? Early imagination is later success!
When you’re a kid, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes has double meaning. Throw on a pair of rain boots and suddenly she is an astronaut exploring water on Mars, or a little boy puts on a dress and he sees how much fun it can be a lady like mummy. When kids pretend to be someone else, they get a sense of how it feels to be someone else. This leads to children considering and caring about other people’s feelings. In the future, we need grownups who will think twice about how their decisions impact the lives of others. It’s this sort of mindset that will promote equality, sustainability and community.
Children who play imaginary games or listen to lots of fairy tales, books or stories spun by those around them tend to have noticeably better communication skills. As a toddler, your child will have a wider vocabulary range. As an adult, these seasoned communication skills will allow them to be a storyteller. Imagine: their safari on the lawn could help them become an environmental lawyer. We need great storytellers more than ever — who else will bring people together and inspire them to action?
4. Social Skills
Children learn how to deal with one another through imaginative and pretend play. Role-play involves negotiating, reading social cues, self-restraint, decision-making, sharing, caring and taking turns. Achieving a better world requires teamwork. If children can learn how to collaborate today, they’ll have the skills for it in the future. Frankly, many grownups could probably benefit from a little imaginative play too!
Pretending allows your toddler to be anyone he wants, explore negative emotions, practice things he's learned and make situations turn out the way he thinks they should. Stopping the evil forces of the house cat from destroying his block village could give your child a sense that he can be powerful and in control, even in unfamiliar or scary situations. As adults, a lack of confidence is one of the biggest threats we face personally. It stops us from diving into uncharted territories head-first, acting on new ideas and speaking up for injustices. Going forward, we can’t afford a lack of confidence to stand in our way.
Imaginative play comes naturally to kids and our job as parents is to keep up the momentum. It’s tempting to sit your little one in front of the big screen for some quiet time, but keep in mind that by watching TV, your child is being fed someone else’s imagination and stories. They pass up the opportunity to create their own and in doing so, they forgo being creators and settle on being consumers.
While imaginative play can be catalyzed by any household object —from couch cushions to water bottles to pots and pans—when it comes to toys, there is one golden rule: keep it open-ended.
The best toys for imagination don’t offer a prescribed way of playing. Open-ended toys are the best ‘tools’ you can to your little ones because they provide an blank canvas for creativity and make believe. They don’t offer a pre-set destination for children to work towards, but rather give them the space to let their imaginations be limitless and unbound by rules. Our adult lives are so governed by limitations, can’t we just let kids enjoy their childhoods freely?
So what playthings do we recommend? Stay tuned over the next few weeks as we feature the toys that are capturing our imagination and are bound to capture your little one’s too ✨