9 ways to encourage imaginative play

Childhood is all about play through imagination, curiosity and no responsibilities….

A while back, I answered a letter about encouraging imaginative play in a reluctant player. The focus then was about interacting, initiating and encouraging play by being present and very active in your child’s play. This highly structured play is good for getting things going and warming everyone up. But eventually you want them to fly solo. Today I have followed up with 9 ways to encourage imaginative play that is more unstructured. Less input from us and more input from them. Depending upon their age and stage you can adapt what you do.

  1. Puppets
  2. Bring some excitement, awe and wonder with a variety of puppets. Children are fascinated with puppets. Once they have a few of their own they soon get the hang of how to use them. There are so many different types;Hand puppets, finger puppets, sock puppets and Marionettes for the older ones. Puppet shows are easy to put on with a box or behind a chair. Using puppets is a fun way of expressing emotions to young children as well as them expressing themselves. Tony the tiger can be quite naughty or can be upset and share his secret. Zoo and museum stores have a good selections of hand puppets that aren’t commercial so the children can have more adventures than with branded puppets. Fireman Sam or Bob the builder puppets are a start but a firefighter or builder puppet is much better.

  3. Finger plays
  4. Take imagination to a whole new level with finger plays. Once your children realise they can use their own body to make animals and create movement with two little Dicky birds sitting in a row they can truly imagine what they can’t see. We love finger plays for queues and lines because it keeps our hands occupied and our attention focused. Action rhymes fall into this same category because you can get big rhymes like, What’s that we see up in the attic it is an elephant……. The fun, laughter and acting you have with these plays fosters a closeness and bonds you all together. Babies love the finger plays you can do on them like round and round the garden. Toddlers and preschoolers have an insatiable appetite for repeating new ones over and over again. By Kindergarten they have a huge amount to draw on they are making up finger plays themselves.

  5. Silks and material
  6. Tents, forts, castles and princesses. This is what childhood is all about. Sheets are great because they are easy to find( easy to clean). The price is reasonable and the play value unlimited. Getting a variety of material types inspires different ways of playing. Having a collection that varies accoding to size, texture, colour, shape, and pattern will encourage a variety of play ideas. Taking the material outside to drape from trees. charity shops are a great place for finding a variety as well as off cuts in fabric shops. The fabric scraps are great for making projects when you need a small piece of felt, rayon, silk, netting etc.

  7. Books & poetry
  8. Finding books that highlight imaginative play between characters can encourage your child to start doing the same. We all know how children love to imitate. There are books like You Choose!Poetry is especially good at taking everyday routines and making the magical in a way a story just can’t. We’ve had many a conversation about poetry long after we’ve read the story because the image really stuck in their mind.

  9. Costume boxes & charity shops
  10. Starting a costume box needn’t be an expensive thing to do. You need the most easily adapted clothes. Many a time the kids can raid our closets. There are plenty of items in charity shops or after Halloween sales. Borrow and swap with friends to change your dressing up box. There are many commercial dressing up clothes of TV characters both sexes will love as well as the generic Chef, wizard, princess. Children do love the security of dressing up as their favourite character- it is familiar and they know just how to act. The knack is having a few other things in there to encourage them to be who ever they want. Some need a little guidance and others just fly with it.

  11. Playdates
  12. Once they are passed the parallel play stage, it is like all of a sudden they realise they have a playmate who can do exactly what they want. Playdates with friends are a sure way of trying a new ways of playing. The other child has read, experienced and has different toys so this shapes how they play. The same for you. We’ve found this is an excellent way of getting out the imagination funk we can get into; playing the same games, activities and the same characters. Playdates introduce new scenarios.

  13. Music
  14. We recently bought a Putumayo kids CD.  Our favourite track:  #2 Luc LeandryVotez Zouk • (Guadeloupe) . You can listen to it on the site 🙂 and see why we love it!

    Depending upon which song is playing you can tell the difference in their play and movement. It’s funny to watch. It’s true of all music it changes our mood and inspires us in different ways. Experiment with music from different cultures ( Latin, French, Celtic, Japanese, African) and different genres ( jazz, instrumental, world, classical) Music can calm but it can inspire movement, contemplation, dance, transport you to another time and place plus help with concentration. It is all too easy to use music for calming but rocking out is great on a day when you’re stuck inside.

  15. Playhouses, treehouses, or the forest
  16. Being outdoors gives a whole new dimension to imaginative play especially if they can have a part of the garden to themselves. Playhouses and treehouses are fun additions. During the summer sunflower homes make a welcome shade and lovely place to hide. Fairy friends come out to play along with their special houses. The wide open space gives the chance to develop larger ideas as well as act out familiar stories like Red riding hood, Snow white, Hansel and Gretel etc.

  17. Natural objects
  18. A stone or a rock can be anything you want it to be right now from a piece of buried treasure found washed up on a beach to the last piece of bread for the poor old lady; the magic coin……. helping your child to see how adaptable natural objects are is easy if you allow them plenty of opportunity to play with them. Treasure basket play for the babies and young toddlers is one introduction. Preschoolers soon take up sticks and use them for many different purposes. Books can become fortifications. specific toys for imaginative play are great additions to any home but children can easily get hung up on not having all the ‘right’ things. Natural objects take that feeling away. Plastic plates and 10 cube blocks give a mouthwatering meal and dessert.

    What’s your 1oth way to encourage imaginative play?

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  1. You covered all the ways I can think of! I think making footprints in the snow would fall under #8. That’s the one that entertained the girls today! Just wanted to let you know the giveaway for Treasure Basket Play is up! http://bit.ly/4OlTrD
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..Treasure Basket eBook Giveaway =-.

  2. My 3 year old boy and I have been having all sorts of imaginative fun with Duplo recently. Making jungles, building sites etc.
    .-= PlanningQueen´s last blog ..Enjoying The Spirit Of Christmas =-.

  3. I’m not sure if I have a tenth to add to that great list. I like how the
    objects suggested are not electronic so that child directed play
    can allow for variations. That is not to say that there is not a 
    place for electronic play. Turning of electronics and letting a
    child find something on their own to do may be one of the
    best ways of teaching them to entertain themselves and
    be imaginative. 


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