Yodelling cows, mushrooms that taste like marshmallows and imaginary friends obsessed with Froot Loops… However it manifests, your child’s imagination is a magical place. It’s cute and quirky, sure. But did you know that creative play can have far-reaching benefits for your child’s mental, physical and emotional development?
This week Barbie turned 55,* we celebrated Star Wars Day and embarked on Screen-Free Week, the international 7-day celebration of life beyond digital. What better time to talk about the advantages of launching your little one on flights of fancy!
(* And she doesn’t look a day over twenty!)
With today’s explosion of smartphones and screen devices, the temptation to appease the little person in your life by plugging them into a DVD or Angry Birds is understandable. Especially when you read that changeover from rising agitation to full-blown hysteria in their tiny body! However, excessive screen time has now been linked to some concerning childhood issues including poor academic performance, attention deficit, sleep disturbance, obesity and more.
By contrast, imaginative play helps your child develop healthy and meaningful connections with the world. It creates a safe space for them to explore their emotions, encouraging self-expression and empathy. Whether they’re playing out everyday family situations (like driving to work, doing the shopping, making dinner) or investing in some far-fetched fantastical scenario, children gain valuable skills from role-play.
Although it can be exhausting at times (!), your child’s curiosity provides the gateway to greater self-awareness. Through role-play, they emulate and explore the adult behaviour they observe, integrating these discoveries into their understanding of self. This develops social and problem-solving skills such as negotiation, cooperation and sharing.
Imaginative play inspires and challenges children to unpack their everyday experiences with extremely positive results, especially when paired with outdoor activity. From facing fears (of monsters, ghosts or housework ;)) to increasing their spatial skills, exploring their gender identity and integrating their experience of the adult world, the benefits are vast.
Whether it’s making music with an orchestra of make-believe cicadas in the mid-afternoon, moulding mud pies in the backyard or captaining a pirate ship bound for Las Vegas, play-dates and quality time spent in the magic of the mind is today’s apple-a-day.
Here are three tips to get you prepped.
CREATE THE SPACE
Fostering an environment that animates your little one is half the battle – metaphorically and physically. That might mean choosing themed bedroom furniture, adding colourful wall stickers or just sparing some pastry and making a space next to you on the kitchen bench. There are pint-sized kitchens or shopping counters stocked with goods if you have the luxury of space.
HAVE PROPS ON HAND
You don’t need to spend a fortune to stimulate your child’s creativity. My memories of greeting the world dressed in my mum’s old platform heels and a strand of fake pearls are some of my happiest. Create your own dressing-up box filled with props. From wooden baking sets to farm houses with barns full of animals, rocking horses, and pint-sized work-benches, you’re spoilt for choice.
JOIN IN THE FUN
Support your little one by getting involved – when you’re treated to a teacup filled with sweet, sweet perfume raise a toast to Teddy and the Bratz and all your tea party guests. Meet your child on their level. It’s their world – relish all of its (crazy) rules. Invest in this alternative world where it really could rain cats and dogs. And rediscover your own inner child in the process!