Putting Imaginative Play Back Into Childhood

The most imaginative play comes from the simplest of surroundings.  I remember creating forts out of sheets and castles out of refrigerator boxes.  Entire worlds can be created in mud or wet sand.  A row of chairs becomes a bus or train or airplane.  When I speak to parent groups and talk about the play of our childhoods, everyone gets very nostalgic.  Then we leave the room, return to our children and resume today’s version of childhood – lessons, organized play dates, appointments, computers, tablets, video games that don’t even require two friends playing to be in the same room.  Today’s children have adult schedules and are thrust constantly into an adult’s concept of imaginative play.  As spring weather approaches and you face more decisions about how to spend your time and money, I implore you to remember:
  • Play is created by children, not adults.  Dance lessons, sports teams, drama classes and other adult led activities are not play.  It is nice if your children enjoy those activities but we must recognize that they are adult driven activities during which our children follow directions.  They are not play.  Play is imaginative and child created.  It begins at that magical moment when children enter a world that is of their own making.  While playing, children set boundaries and explore different roles.  They determine their rules and experiment with imposing them.  They are sometimes the leaders and other times the followers.  They make the decisions.  From positive, child created play, comes self-discovery, self-esteem and confidence.  We need to ensure that they have time in every day to use their imaginations.
  • Anything your child plays with is a toy.  “Toy” is a misunderstood word.  A toy is any instrument of play.  A box that your children can make into a car is no less a toy than the brand name cars in a toy store.  The sheets that serve as the boundaries of their indoor forts are toys.   Many an adult has joked about their children playing longer with the box than the toy that came in it.   It is the box, because it can become anything, which captures their imagination.  Adults love big, expensive toys.  Big, expensive toys represent success to us and the older we get the more expensive the toys.  Buy whatever you like for your children but remember that it is far less consequential to them.  They want what they see on TV because we are a society of consumers and children are no different.  They will be so excited to get it and, eventually, we notice it has been abandoned.  Along with the toys we purchase, be sure to provide plain, everyday items.  The plain paper plates, boxes, material and old clothing will stimulate their imaginations and, therefore, encourage more learning than any adult constructed toy.
  • Children cannot pretend that which they do not know.  When you take a child into a room and say, “Let’s pretend to be in a submarine” but they have never seen a submarine, they have no idea what you want them to imagine.  They can imagine that which they know – things they have experienced or seen.  Children can pretend to be superheroes because they have seen them on TV.  They can pretend to be in a car because they have been in cars.  They cannot pretend to be at an amusement park or in a location that they have never seen or experienced.  They cannot pretend things that they cannot picture.  Our world view and theirs are very different.  In order be immersed in play, children need to set the scene.  They need to assign the roles.  Adults should wait to be invited and then take their cues from the children.  
  • There is no greater playground than nature.  Lying in the grass watching the leaves blow and the clouds go by or watching the movement and strength of ants provide lessons that cannot be replicated.  Children learn about weather from being in it.   They learn about substances from playing in sand and mud.  They need hands-on experiences to build knowledge.  Electronics do not provide hands-on experience.  They try to replicate it but they cannot replace it.  Playing outside and observing nature should not be limited to team sports and time in the pool.  Children need time year round to experiment and to observe nature.  It is in nature that all of their senses work in tandem.  They can see, smell and feel the beautiful plants.  They can touch an apple tree and taste its fruit.  They can hear and see the birds as they fly by.  The more senses children use, the more active their brains.  The more they observe, the keener their analytical skills.  Give them time to just spend time outside.

Play is the hard work of childhood.  It is through play that children develop social, emotional and cognitive skills.  Be sure that their play time is filled with their own imaginations.
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Copyright 2013 © Cindy Terebush
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  1. Psrents need to read this. They seem to think that they need to spend money on the latest toy or invest in the currently popular class or sport. All they need to do is allow children to express themselves!

    1. Feel free to post a link to the article or email it to people.


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