It has become increasingly apparent in today’s technology obsessed culture that imagination is an important tool in a child’s development. Apart from actually assisting in their understanding of reality, children’s need for imagination extends to all spheres of their life, from interacting with others through to classroom learning. For example, discussing past events in a history lesson requires quite a large amount of imagination, as does any thought about future career paths any youngster may have. Kids, like anyone, can only picture future endeavours or past historical events by using their imagination.
Creating an environment which promotes inspirational and imaginative activities therefore plays a significant role in the cognitive development of children, inadvertently teaching them fundamental social interactions including problem solving, language development, self expression and even taking on the perspectives of others – think about it, all these activities require a type of thinking that strongly relies on some form of imagination. When playing a character, for instance, children are able to express feelings and actions of another person or personality, enabling them to empathise and take on a different view of the world entirely. This same thought process allows kids to grow up believing and imagining they can become anything they want – and who wouldn’t want to encourage that!
With all the mounting evidence that a vivid imagination assists in cognitive development, we’ve probably left you wondering exactly what you should do to help your kids expand their thoughts. The answer is – absolutely nothing. Enter: free play. The concept of free play is based on the notion that the best way to encourage creative thinking amongst young minds is to abandon all structures and allow free flowing thoughts to take over, an activity that children are very capable of and naturally steer toward. Free play is non-directional, and whilst props are always a great addition to any play time, kids won’t need a lot of structure to take part. The best thing you can provide them with is a new environment to explore - you’ll find they make their own ‘toys’ out of whatever they come across, so taking them on an outing or even to a friend’s place is the perfect situation to allow free play.
So, why is free play good for kids? Children don’t have control over most of the things they do on a daily basis - “thank goodness!” we hear you cry! But it’s about more than just stopping them from running amok; letting kids have control over their play clearly has positive effects on creative boundaries. Think back to the last time you took your kids for a country walk, picnic, or even to the shops– chances are they entertained themselves, for prolonged periods of time may we add, however they could. They might pretend a rock is a car or a stick a plane, but more often than not, they probably don’t need anything at all and are content running around (ah yes, you remember now!).
Kids will do the same in their own garden, or inside, and make the most of what they have. If the weather is dismal or time is lacking, the best environment to set them up with incorporates toys or props that require a little more creativity (forget the incessant drone of computer games and televisions if you can – we know sometimes it seems like the only thing that will keep kids quiet for more than 15 minutes!). So providing toys that challenge imaginations such as craft sets or painting, building blocks, dolls, animals and of course, the old fashioned dressing up box, is sure to provide hours of distraction fun.
Just to get you started, some ideas to encourage creative play –
Keep the TV out of it – limit viewing as much as possible. We know there will be days when plonking your young ones in front of the telly will be the only solution to your problem, and that’s fine, but try not to make a habit out of it. If the ‘I’m bored’ or ‘there’s nothing to do’ creeps up, suggest a drawing session, bike ride, play date with friends or even a little bit of baking – whatever you can handle!
Play dress ups – it’s easy, it’s fun and it certainly doesn’t cost the earth. No need for store bought dress ups, we mean the classic ‘raid your wardrobe and throw it in a box’ move, it’s bound to provide hours free play gold, not to mention some priceless moments!
Their secret space – there’s nothing more exciting than having your very own magical spot. Use some old sheets outside or in a special corner of a room to make their perfect little den. Throw in a few cushions and perhaps some fairy lights and they’ll be off to a land far away in no time.
Lights, camera, action! – We’re sure there are many adlib performances of great calibre in your family, but why not go the whole hog and help your kids set up a mini show? They can make some tickets to hand out to family members (cats and dogs welcome) and use some string and fabric for an instant curtain.