Imaginative play, dramatic play, playing make-believe or pretend… while there are many names for this style of play, it’s universal. Across the world, no matter what the language, the culture, or the socio-economic background, children adopt this style of play everyday. Why? Perhaps they’ve witnessed older brothers or sisters playing this way. Maybe they’ve played imaginatively with their peers in care. Or perhaps it just stems from within themselves. Either way, it’s a form of play that comes naturally, can be guided but not taught, and often requires little or nothing to participate, so easily overcomes most barriers.
Mummies and babies, puss-cats and puppies, builders fixing things with their tools, families cooking, baking, vacuuming and cleaning… just some of the limited amount of imaginative games children enjoy playing. The land of make believe is a child’s chance to get lost in play. Be completely absorbed. The opportunity for a child to role-play the experiences that interest them. Things like being a ‘doctor’, wrapping teddy up in bandages or lovingly caring for dolly when she’s feeling unwell.
Children may engage in imaginative play alone or with others. It has the ability to bond friendships, build self-confidence, teach a child to express their ideas, thoughts and feelings, and experience the true magic of childhood. Creating powerful memories that, for those of us lucky enough, can be carried throughout adulthood and reminisced over fondly for the rest of our lives.
Types of imaginative play
Imaginative play is broken into two main types.
Structured imaginative play is where children are given a little guidance. Whether that includes a selection of props to promote a framework for creativity, or a full, ready-to-play set-up - like a grocery store complete with a cash register, groceries and a shopping basket. A solid starting point to encourage the imagination.
Pure imagination. Children driving the play on their own, imagining that a tree is their home, or a rock is their pet. Whether they’re playing individually or with others, unstructured play is all about the child creating their own world with little or no input from parents or carers.