Power of Creative Play: 8 Child Development Benefits
We did it, our kids do it and their kids will surely do it too. We’re talking about imaginative or pretend play. It is one of the cornerstones of growing up. Whether it’s playing house, acting as a grocery store cashier, playing ‘cops and robbers’ or pretending to be action/sports figures, these types of play enable children to exercise and develop the creative components of their brain.
According to PBS.org, “One of the most important types of creative activity for young children is creative play. Creative play is expressed when children use familiar materials in a new or unusual way, and when children engage in role-playing and imaginative play. Nothing reinforces the creative spirit and nourishes a child’s soul more than providing large blocks of time to engage in spontaneous, self-directed play throughout the day.”
In fact, there are many child development benefits attributed directly to creative play. Some of these include:
- Social development– in many cases creative play involves others, which provides opportunities for children to interact with one another and develop those interpersonal skills. “Through pretend play, children learn to do things like negotiate, consider others’ perspectives, transfer knowledge from one situation to another, delay gratification, balance their own ideas with others, develop a plan and act on it, explore symbolism, express and listen to thoughts and ideas, assign tasks and roles, and synthesize different information and ideas.” (Source: BrightHorizons.com).
- Physical development – promotes fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination as children act out their roles and manipulate the toys to emulate the imagined person/animal, etc.
- Language and literacy development – kids can learn new vocabulary words from each other and from parents while engaged in creative play. They also learn to associate actions with words.
- Cognitive development – kids must use their imagination and think outside of the box which can involve exploration and problem-solving. “Whether it’s two children wanting to play the same role or searching for the just right material to make a roof for the playhouse, your child calls upon important cognitive thinking skills that he/she will use in every aspect of his/her life, now and forever” (Source: Scholastic.com).
- Emotional development – children engaged in pretend play are actively experimenting with various social and emotional roles of life.
- Self-expression – kids learn to express themselves more as they take on and act out different roles.
- Self-discovery – “Dramatic play experiences are some of the first ways children learn about their likes and dislikes, their interests, and their abilities” (Source: BrightHorizons.com).
- Self-esteem – “By giving your child complete control in their pretend world and accepting them as a silly character like Captain Underpants, you are enhancing their self-esteem.” (Source: PositiveParentConnection.net)
According to Psychology Today, “Systematic research has increasingly demonstrated a series of clear benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games from the ages of about two and one half through ages six or seven. Actual studies have demonstrated cognitive benefits such as increases in language usage including subjunctives, future tenses, and adjectives”. The important concept of “theory of mind,” an awareness that one’s thoughts may differ from those of other persons and that there are a variety of perspectives of which each of us is capable, is also closely related to imaginative play (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).
Parental Tips for Children’s Pretend Play
- Provide realistic props – purchase action/sports action figures, dolls, puppets; you can also make your own props, e.g. a paper sword for playing “pirate”
- Encourage use of math skills – for example when playing “store”
- Foster imagination – not all props should be purchased
- Encourage problem-solving – e.g. if children are going on a pretend picnic, have them come up with a list of things they might bring.
- Explore new territory – following pretend play, help the child experience the real thing; e.g. take them to a grocery store to see how a cash register works or visit the local police station and speak with an officer.
- Make a play date – take the opportunity to invite other children over to play make-believe with your child (source ebay.com).
Creative play is also a great way to spend a rainy day inside with your kids. That’s right, you too can engage in their creative play. Play along…they’ll love it and you!