Play is an important part of every child's development. We usually think about swings and slides, balls and running and all other physical activities as playing. To become a problem solver, creative thinker or even simple mental development we need to allow for time for imaginative play.
Something as simple as playing with cars or dolls, in an unstructured way is a crucial component of every child's development.
Throughout the years, researchers have demonstrated that there are many benefits for children’s development when they engage in pretend games, especially with ages between two and seven years of age. The benefits are extensive. Children who have been allowed the opportunity for creative play show increases in language usage, using a more extensive range of adjectives, future tenses, and subjunctives. This leads to greater communication skills in both written and verbal communications.
In 2004, the psychologist Sandra Russ also established a link between pretend play and children's understanding of their emotions. Children who are given opportunities to imagine situations while playing will often express imagined emotions in those situations. Anger, sadness, frustration and even happiness, a full range of positive and negative emotions are visualized in the game. This allows children to learn how to express their feelings, even understand their own emotions, positive or negative. They have higher self-awareness and just as importantly they show more empathy to the friends and family when actively involved in pretend play on a regular basis.
When children engage in pretend play, they can assume a character that is not their own. They can often visualize a character or creature interacting with them or their friends under extreme or out of the world situations. They might have a different personality or a different opinion about the world around them, or a deliberately different view regarding things that are important to them. With imaginative play a child will take unique opportunity to learn different social and communication skills, problem-solving and even increase their emotional intelligence towards others, putting themselves in their situation.
An undeniable and important benefit that is associated with pretend play is the development of creativity. When a child is given the opportunity to play in a non-formal or structured way, to pretend to be someone he/she isn't, to do things he/she usually wouldn’t do, they will start to be more creative. At first, they will re-enact things that they know well or even daily routines but more and more they branch into creative ways to play. Even if you don't always notice this change immediately, you'll notice it over time.
They will naturally become problem solvers in day-to-day activities and even suggest different ways in tackling mundane tasks, like brushing teeth or eating breakfast.
Allow time to be creative
Research shows, children who readily and easily get involved in pretend games usually come from households where books and stories are a common place in the home. Access to craft papers, drawing materials, and glue. Building blocks and bricks are common play toys and even outdoor play time are all elements, but not exclusive to of a creative environment. But most importantly allowing the time to play with these items is the key to creative play. Encouraging a child to use creative toys is not creating structure when done in an open ended way. A simple nudge could be : “Hey, what can we do with this?”; “ What does this look like?” “What can we make with this..?” But remember to step way, don’t get to hands on or involved unless an extra hand really is required.
Play should be the most important activity in every child's life. This is what allows them to learn and develop all skills required in later life.