Contrary to popular belief, creativity is not an inborn talent. Creativity is like a muscle, a skill we can help develop, which is why imaginative play should not be undervalued with young children. Through imagination we learn to make sense of the world and engage in it, learning life skills and how to cooperate and share with our peers.
The act of imagining leads to creativity, which is integral not only for artistic and musical expression, but also for science, maths and social/emotional intelligence.
Sparking your child’s imagination
It’s often the simplest things that can spark imagination in children. Cardboard boxes for instance are one of the best imaginative ‘toy’ you will find, as these can spark your child’s imagination into creating almost anything.
Children love to reinvent and will use anything they can get their hands on to create exciting new worlds and fictitious characters. Reading is also a great way to expose a child to different scenarios that activate their imagination and they can explore at their own pace.
Imagination is vital for communication & language development
Imagination develops language skills, listening, looking and talking. It also helps children with understanding what’s being communicated through body language in imaginative play settings. Children will take on roles that encourage discipline and empathy, re-enacting their feelings and expressing these safely.
By saying silly things and playing with rhymes, you can help to foster language development with your child. If you express your child’s ideas and share their vision it also sends them a message that what they are saying is important to you.
Vgotsky said: “When a child is at play they are in constant dialogue with themselves or others. Imaginative play is essential to cognitive development.” He also believed that young children have the ability to master the prerequisites of academic skills through engagement in mature make-believe play.
Imagination develops critical thinking skills
Imagination allows a child to think outside the box, which is paramount to the development of critical thinking skills and creative problem-solving abilities. By trying out new ways of doing things and through experimentation, using their five senses and their bodies, they are developing valuable neurological connections in their brains. A connection that is used repeatedly becomes permanent, while connections that are rarely used may not last.
Unfortunately, the act of experimentation can often get little ones into trouble, think crayons on walls for instance! There is a fine line between discipline and allowing imagination to foster. In such cases it is recommended to firmly explain to the child why writing on the wall is not acceptable but simultaneously offering an alternative such as large butchers paper where they can continue what is a very imaginative form of play.
Academic skills are improved through imagination
Imagination also enhances your child’s academic skills (Through imagination your child’s academic skills are enhanced). Children will more readily refine their communication skills and adapt better learning habits by playing imaginary games and also through storytelling.
It’s often imagination that helps children to learn about historical events, as well as people, places and cultures that they may never have a chance to meet. Using imaginative play helps them to discover the world in which they live, as well as collect experiences. It is where they start making sense of the world around them and their place in it.
Imagination assists children’s emotional and social growth
Social and emotional development is also helped by imagination. Children are able to practice social skills such as negotiating, sharing, taking turns expressing emotions and learning empathy. As their play becomes more complex so does their cooperative learning skills which fosters respect, enhances self esteem and they are motivated to participate in higher order thinking. (By fostering your child’s imagination through creativity, you also help them to grow on both an emotional and a social level).
What can you do at home?
Props from around the house are useful to create imaginary stories. Anything from blankets to boxes can turn into magical kingdoms. Recycled grocery boxes help make a store, A washing basket can make an awesome boat sailing on the seven seas.
In terms of toys that work well, anything that reflects what they see mum and dad use daily is a great idea. Examples include play kitchens, food and toy tools. When in doubt, nothing beats the humble cheap empty cardboard box!
These are some of the many reasons why fostering your child’s imagination can be beneficial to them on so many levels. Fostering imagination is as important as fostering academic skills and also has an incredible positive impact on personal and social development.
Valerie Le Baron is an integral member of the Kids Club Early Learning Centre team. During her current tenure she’s helped double the footprint of Kids Club’s centres by working closely with Operations, Kids Club’s Educational Directors as well as Carers. Kids Club’s geographic footprint currently includes a number of long day care centres in Sydney and Canberra. She’s also behind Kids Club’s external parent communications program and behind the scenes of Kids Club TV on Facebook.