Structured imagination play; I know what you’re thinking… another blog about imagination play? Yes!
There is that much that we need to say about kids using their imagination! So, Dress Up happened and. It. Was. Worth it. Seriously though, if you were on this journey with us, I hope it was as an exciting experience for you as it was for me. If you weren’t, don’t panic!
All you need to do is visit our blog on Dress-up.
So what does this next phase of imagination play look like in reality? All you do is take a scene that is part of your everyday family life and recreate a safe, miniature version of it. It is that simple. Take my all-time favourite example; the kitchen. My kids and I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I mean A LOT. They need millions of snacks, and meals, and drinks and all within a ten minute time span. Did I mention we spend a lot of time in the kitchen? So it is the perfect environment to get your children imagining; they could be the next junior “masterchef”, or even build up the skills necessary to take over cooking dinner; we can all dream right. Recreate your kitchen for some structured imagination play. It really is not as complicated as it sounds. Most of what you need you already have in your kitchen. Add a little wooden oven and BAM! Hours of tea drinking in your future.
You’re probably asking (because you may take tea drinking less seriously than me), why is this important? Well, there are multiple developmental advantages for your child in structured imagination play, here are a few:
Develops an understanding of processes:
- As children begin to get older they should be able to process multiple instructions at the same time. A sad thing about the digital age is that children are losing this processing function as technology now provides instantaneous solutions at the click of a button. Your child needs to learn cause and effect; how chopping vegetables needs to happen BEFORE frying them, for example. In the little makeshift kitchen that I created, my son went for the mixer first- the coolest kitchen appliance. But what use is a mixer without ingredients? And what use are ingredients without a recipe – a sequence of steps that lead to a desired result.
- In this secure environment, my son was able to form cognitive links necessary to understand that things have to happen in a specific order.
Creates an understanding of scientific methodology:
- As we got started both my children had a conversation about what they would make, and what ingredients they would need (all pretend of course), and what sequence they would follow. In this way they formulated an aim, developed a method, thought about what ingredients and equipment to use and got to work. Wait… did my 3 and 4 year olds just utilise the same methodology as a scientific experiment? Yes… yes they did. #imaginationplayforthewin
- Encourages the use of imagination in those children who struggle to access that part of their brain.
- For some children, the sheer open-endedness of dress up can be overwhelming. Some children love it, others are intimidated by it. My daughter, for example, dressed as a chef for around 15 minutes. But then, wanting to get back into a world with which she is more familiar, she changed back into her dress and once again became a princess. She is the kind of child that wants a little bit more structure and needs more encouragement to draw out the imagination process.
- The real world can be intimidating to your child, or could even be out of bounds because it is not safe – a hot plate on a stove, for example. With imagination play, however, everyday environments are created to encourage children to engage with real life scenarios, but now in a safe and child-friendly way.
- Imagination play allows children to draw on concrete examples that guide the process of play and allows them to move from one activity to the next, drawing on past experiences.
Encourages social development:
- Again, my favourite type of development. Creating an environment outside of the real world provides your child with a safe environment in which to have conversations they may be reluctant to have in real life situations. They work together by assigning roles and responsibilities, they argue about whose turn it is to use the mixer and then resolve the argument by taking turns, etc.
- Taking turns, the biggest struggle formost children. When playing in structured environments there are pieces of equipment that they both want to use at the same time, or they want to use what the other is working with. Sound familiar? Like the mixer; this is by far the most popular kitchen tool. My son convinced my daughter that it was more fun to chop vegetables than play with the mixer. This left him with free reign over the preferred toy, and she still had a meaningful role to play. So what did they learn? Well, they both learned compromise and reasoning without even knowing they were learning.
- Helps with problem solving:
- Ok, so now the children have a recipe which they have figured out. Yes, a scientific methodology. What they now have to do is solve various problems along the way.
- They need water but how will they measure it out? They run through to the actual kitchen to retrieve my measuring spoons. Now they have water, they add some sand, and mix it all together. It is ready to go into the oven. How hot must the oven be? How long must it be in the oven for? You get the idea?
- With this specific example my children also started coming to terms with some mathematical concepts. When they cut a vegetable in half, I explained what a half was and what a whole was; you’d think this concept was too advanced for a three and four year old. Not at all, they grasped it immediately and began using that terminology in play.
I really could go on forever because there are endless developmental advantages to structured imagination play. But the most important one of all, it gives you a few hours of peaceful, tea-drinking alone time where you get to watch learning unfold before your eyes.
Enjoy the experience – Brittany