Play & Imagination (3 - 5 yrs.)

Before Watching

Your child is a master of play. As she pretends, plays games, and gets active indoors and outdoors, she learns about the world, explores new ideas, builds thinking skills, and so much more. For your child, play is learning and learning is play!

Play takes many different forms—for example, pretend play, active physical play, or formal game play—and you can be a part of each one. Play doesn’t require any special tools, props, or places. It can happen anytime and with any object. As a matter of fact, children are often most excited to play with things they see you using every day.

  • Encourage your child to pretend by setting out recycled items, everyday objects, and old clothing for her to use as costumes and props. Asking questions such as “What if we flew to the moon?” will inspire your child to use her imagination.
  • Active play is a wonderful way to help ensure that your child is growing and healthy. As she dances, hides, dribbles a ball, runs on the playground, and joins in a game of tag, your child builds coordination, muscles, and thinking skills.
  • You can also have fun together playing board games and games with rules. Not only do these games build skills like listening and following directions, but they also encourage communication and collaboration.

Play can happen in so many different ways and each way brings a unique experience and an opportunity for growth and development. Playing alone allows your child to develop thinking skills and dive into her own fantasies and interests. Playing together with other children gives her the chance to practice important social skills like working with others. Playing with you helps your child feel loved, secure, and supported, and helps you both to build a strong and special bond that will last a lifetime.

In this video you’ll meet children from four families:

  • Aaliyah (age 3) as she pretends to be a doctor and plays a pizza game with her mom.
  • Inanna (age 4) as she imagines with her dolls and has fun on the swings.
  • Yoong  (age 4) as he takes an imaginary trip to Japan.
  • Joaquin (age 4) and Tariq (age 12) as they get active on the playground.

Watch the different ways that these children play and notice how their parents encourage them to play, imagine, and learn.

After Watching

Pretend Play. In the video you heard many parents discuss the importance of pretend play and fantasy play. You saw Aaliyah work through her fears of going to the doctor by pretending she was a doctor, and you saw Yoong be inspired by his father’s suitcase to take a trip to Japan. As children engage in pretend scenarios like these, they are encouraged to use rich and imaginative language and to express their thoughts and emotions. They also build confidence as they try out activities and have adventures they may not yet be ready to have in real life.

Try This.

  • On your next walk together, ask your child, “What if we were rabbits? How would we move?” Together, pretend to be rabbits and other animals as you make your way around the neighborhood.
  • Fill a box with everyday objects, recycled items, and old clothing such as hats and scarves. Keep this box in a place where your child can access it easily and notice how she uses these items for pretend.
  • Just like Yoong’s parents, you can jump in and join your child as she plays. Follow her lead as you play with her. If she hands you a ball and says, “Have an apple,” pretend to take a bite. Then you might continue the narrative by handing it back to her as you say, “And here’s an orange for you.”

Active Play. Joaquin and his bother build physical skills and language skills on the playground. Games that get children moving in different ways also build children’s sense of space and their thinking skills, and help them develop all their muscles. The fun children have as they play actively also helps them to build confidence in all their endeavors. This confidence will lead them to share their ideas, try new things, and have the self esteem that will allow them to learn at their highest potential. 

Try This. The next time your child is running around outside, give him fun physical challenges. You can ask him to jump over a rock three times, walk around a play structure backwards, or balance on a log. Then, he can challenge you! 

Formal Games. Aaliyah and her mom play a pizza game. Aaliyah practices following directions and taking turns. She also builds math skills as she counts and sorts different pizza toppings. You and your child can play games anywhere and with anything. Games with dice or counting games help your child develop math skills, guessing games build your child’s language skills, and playing any game together with others helps your child learn how to collaborate, be patient, take turns, share, and communicate.

Try This. The next time you are at the grocery store, look around and describe one object that you can see from where you are standing. Challenge your child to guess the object. Then, you guess as she describes an object!

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