I remember picking Essley up from preschool early in the year and her teacher telling me that she had a “very active imagination” when she played – and, as I often do as a newish parent, feeling little unsure as to whether or not that was a good thing. So I went home and did some research only to find out that not only was it a good thing, it was something that is a crucial part of their development and should be actively encouraged. We had always participated in pretend scenarios when playing with her, acting out different parts and creatively make believing, and it was reassuring to find out we were doing something right. But I wanted to find out more about how we could continue to nurture this type of play. So I did some more research, and also began to try out different ways to encourage it. Today I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned that seem to be the most successful (and I’d love to hear about your experience as well!).
1. Choose toys that can be used in a variety of ways. Open-ended toys encourage creativity and imagination because they can be used in completely different ways. Building sets and costumes or dress-up clothes are great examples of these types of toys.
2. Provide your children with art supplies. I am constantly amazed at what Essley can create with some crayons. Drawing, coloring, painting, sculpting, etc. are not only great for developing fine motor skills, they also help foster an incredible sense of imagination.
3. Get involved in your children’s pretend play. Don’t just observe – play and imagine alongside them. If your little one says he or she is a giraffe and eats leaves from trees, encourage and participate! Saying, “wow you’re such a tall giraffe!” is great, but actively playing along side them and pretending you’re a giraffe too takes imaginative play to the next level, by helping them learn about interaction and relationships.
4. Get your kids outside. Kids seriously lack outdoor time these days which is having adverse affects on them physically and mentally. There is no better place to practice in imaginative play than outside. Take a hike or walk in the woods, ride bikes, or just let your little ones explore your backyard or local park.
5. Create Storytimes. We absolutely love books around here, and going to the library is one of our kids’ favorite activities – but we also make time to just sit around and tell stories. When Essley gets involved and begins adding to the stories with her own tales, it’s evident that her imagination is really at work. Even at 16 months, we are seeing Emmett start to participate in story time as well. The act of storytelling is a proven way to help children develop their imaginations.
6. Put on music. In addition to the benefits that come along with dancing, music stimulates children’s brains in a variety of ways. When music is playing, Essley will use it as a background for acting out little plays and pretend situations, and it’s so cool to watch. And while Emmett is much younger and still in the parallel play phase, it so obviously encourages his imagination when music is playing as well.
7. Let them explore. Whether we’re on adventure at a local play place, at the library, or at the park, we encourage Essley and Emmett to explore the colors, shapes, textures, and sounds around them. Giving kids freedom to explore allows them access to endless possibilities for make believe.
8. Put children in environments outside of the home that focus on imaginative play. Allowing kids to practice creative play independently, away from their parents, is an incredible way to expose them to new experiences and encourage them to pretend and create on their own. This is one of the reasons we started Essley in preschool at 2.5 and chose the preschool we did (their program is play based). It’s also something we take into consideration with childcare. And it’s why I love the idea of KidsPark childcare service so much (and wish so badly we lived closer to one of their locations!). KidsPark is a really cool, super unique, custom child care option that focuses on imaginative play through a recreation setting that features games, art, indoor play structure, drama, and stories, in an environment that encourages freedom to explore. Everyday they offer fun featured activities like cooking, arts and crafts, sensory exploration, and hands-on science. And in addition to the wonderful opportunities they provide for kids, their childcare is available by the hour, including on evenings and weekends (they’re open until midnight on Fridays and Saturday!). There are no reservations needed either, which means parents can keep appointments, run errands, enjoy a date night, or do whatever they want without having to make plans in advance. They also make a great back-up solution if your regular childcare doesn’t work out. For us, the biggest challenge with childcare is finding babysitters who we trust that can take the kids for just a few hours during the day while I work from home, and/or who are available without a lot of notice if I have a last minute project come up, etc. KidsPark would be the perfect solution. And all KidsPark teachers have an Early Childhood background and pass all background checks, so you can feel at ease when you drop off your little ones. While we don’t have a location near us, we’ve researched where they do have locations so we can utilize them in our travels. I’m really looking forward to it.
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