Their Wildest Dreams: A Kid’s Imagination

Imagination and Halloween go hand-in-hand. It’s the time for decking out the house with some curious décor, telling fantastical stories, and becoming anything you want to be. It’s only a matter of how far your creativity and imagination will take you. 

Imagination is the ability to create up an image or scenario that hasn’t been seen or experienced, like coming face-to-face with a dragon or witnessing an alien abduction. Imagination is internal, unconsciously influenced by memories and feelings of past experiences rather than our current situation.

In the Land of Make-Believe

Roughly around 2-3 years old, your kid should be into Imaginative play (aka pretend or dramatic play) allowing them to view objects and people as something else, like playing house with your kiddo and you’re the puppy (true story).

Imaginative play has these key elements:

  • Object substitution – the TV remote is now a phone, the sofa pillows are now rocks
  • Pretend properties – that cute stuffed animal now has a name, can talk, and would like cake
  • Social component – you know they don’t make those kiddie tea sets for nothing
  • Role-playing – your child is an astronaut looking for signs of life on the moon
  • Metacommunication – it’s a loose script of how this play segment is going to go (ex: slay the dragon or take it out to lunch)

This type of play helps kids make sense of what they’ve observed in their surroundings, and it becomes useful for developing social and decision-making skills later on. Because it’s open-ended and unstructured play, the possibilities of their thoughts and ideas are endless.

The Root of All…

Imagination is important for your child’s development, but how?

  • Social/emotional: When your child pretends to be someone (or something) else for a moment, they are developing empathy and understanding of a different perspective outside of their own. Putting themselves in another person’s shoes (figuratively or literally) may also help them become more confident in who/what/how they want to be when they grow up. Additionally, when your child pretends with others, they learn social skills like cooperation, negotiation, collaboration, delegation, as well as patience.
  • Cognitive: Imagination provides opportunities to change perspective, viewing situations differently and coming up with innovative solutions to problems they may encounter. The ability to view objects as something else promotes creativity and unconventional thinking.
  • Physical: Imaginative play requires both gross and fine motor skills, from setting up the scene to acting out their roles. All the pushing, pulling, jumping, and climbing also provide body awareness and self-regulation.
  • Speech/Language: Children will imitate anything and everything of interest, from parents to the neighbor’s cat. When they do this, they are experimenting with components of speech and language. They may attempt to speak with an accent, pick up new vocabulary, or play with their volume as they roar like a dinosaur. To do this, they must be attentive to what they are hearing and the purpose of such communication, deepening connections they have with others. 

Child’s Play

Imagination requires a foundation of memories and experiences to build on, allowing their creativity to become more intricate as they age. You can help build this foundation even before they are in the imaginative play stage.

Newborn to 2 years: The goal at this age is to create a base for pretend play

  • From 0-3 months of age, make silly facial expressions and gestures
  • Around 3-6 months, provide a variety of toys/child-safe objects that they can explore and engage with, learning their different properties and purposes (ex: rattles, crinkles, blocks, balls, etc).
  • Around 12 months, offer items that have a clear purpose (like plastic cups, spoons, and plates) as they begin to imitate daily routines.
  • Around 2 years, pretend play is emerging but may need assistance in figuring out what to do next. Give suggestions on what they should do next. So, if they made you food but don’t know what to do next, recommend they put it on a plate and serve it to you (or their fave stuffed animal) to eat and enjoy.

3 to 4 years: Imaginative play at this age gives children opportunities to express their feelings and test different roles and scenarios

  • Present objects that your child may typically encounter in their day-to-day life. These can be play kitchens and food items, handyman tools, or baby dolls.
  • Include open-ended toys/items to promote creativity like blocks or boxes.
  • Encourage retelling stories of books you’ve read to together, changing the ending or providing a backstory of some characters.
  • Allow them to get outside and enjoy nature as sticks, rocks, and trees provide a blank canvas for imagination

5 to 6 years: At this age, children have a good understanding between reality and make-believe and will engage in imagination with a greater attention span and awareness to detail

  • Suggest different situations for pretend play that may interest them, like playing superheroes/villains, doctors, or chefs. Ask them what accessories their character may need for someone else to recognize them (ex: a cape for a superhero or a long gown for a patient). If there is an event that may be giving your child anxiety, have them play it out to work out all the different scenarios and ways to handle it.
  • Provide art supplies to let them draw, color, paint or experiment with various media forms and visually express their thoughts and ideas.
  • Ask questions that would get your child thinking, like “What would you do if…”

So, the Halloween season gives them the greatest platform to carry out their most elaborate and creative ideas. Let them dress up in costume throughout the month, or better yet let them create their costumes. Give them opportunities to help you convert your house into a spooky manor, allow them to dress up as a princess-goddess-mermaid-vampire, and let them entertain you with tales that would make R.L. Stine proud.

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