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What Is Imaginative Play and Why Is It Important?

Imagination plays a huge role in our lives, from when we’re children right through to adulthood. While kids engage their imagination in a range of ways, once we grow up it is easier to take it for granted or overlook it entirely. “We as adults can often under value imaginative play,” Janice Davis explains in a great article on the Learning4Kids website. “Role play may appear to be a very simple activity, yet within it, young children learn practical life skills such as dressing themselves, how to cooperate and share with others.” As she outlines, imagination is another way to learn through experience. In imaginative play, children (and adults) can experiment with decision making, explore how their behaviour affects them and others, and practise other social skills. A wide range of studies have also shown that imaginative play helps develop cognitive abilities, leading to increased language usage, problem-solving skills, a greater ability to focus, and more self-awareness.

The Value Of Imaginative Play at Home

While the benefits of imaginative play can be found at any age, research has shown it is particularly important for kids from 18 months to 7 or 8 years of age. During these years, kids often go off to day care, prep, kindergarten and primary school, where educational structures can limit the amount of imaginary play kids engage in.1796922_610138942393943_422125052_o In a journal article for for Early Childhood Research & Practice, Miami University educational psychology professor Doris Bergen highlights a growing need for imaginary play outside of school environments. She says that an emphasis on proficiency test performance in school environments has led to fewer opportunities for kids to play. “If children lack opportunities to experience such play, their long-term capacities related to metacognition, problem solving, and social cognition, as well as to academic areas such as literacy, mathematics, and science, may be diminished,” she says. Playing at home, then, gives children more opportunities to use their imagination, and can lead to an even wider range of benefits. Research has shown a significant number of positive outcomes for kids who engage in play with their parents, including:

  • Higher levels of cognitive ability and imagination,
  • Better family relationships,
  • More positive social development,
  • More positive engagement in school,
  • Stronger friendship networks; and
  • Higher self esteem.

So even if there is not many opportunities for kids to engage in imaginary play during school hours, finding time for it at home can lead to more fulfilling experiences and benefits for the whole family.

Education on a Plate and Imaginative Play

About Education on a Plate - NatalieThe fast pace of life today can make it a challenge to spend time with kids, something Education on a Plate creator Natalie Simon knows all too well. As a mother of three, with a new business and a thriving career as a physiotherapist and acupuncturist, her vision for Education on a Plate is to help make learning fun in a range of different ways. “As a mum, I am more determined than ever to make my kids’ learning journey fun, enjoyable and interactive,” Natalie says. “These plates are full of useful facts and can become a useful resource whenever needed.” While the plates themselves have a number of different educational facts on them, they can also be used as a way to facilitate other activities – including imaginative play. So below are some ideas and examples of how to use Education on a Plate as a tool to engage in this kind of play.

The Shapes Plate

blue shapes childThe Shapes Plate features a house, so you could start by talking about things that happen around the house. Some questions to encourage play include:

  1. Is there someone at the door? (or knock knock jokes)
  2. Should we give the flowers some water?
  3. How about we fly the kite?
  4. What’s on the roof? Do you want to talk to him/her/it?

Improvised games could continue from any of these questions (and more). Remember that imaginative play doesn’t have to be complex – it could simply be an improvised conversation or activity and last for a few minutes or hours.

The Seasons Plate

The Seasons Plate is a great tool for imaginative play because you can act out things that you do when it’s hot or cold. Another option is to look at things that happen in each season, for example:

  1. Spring – lots of flowers bloom in spring, so you could suggest picking flowers as a pretend play activity.
  2. Summer – you could pretend to go swimming or do other beach/pool activities. If your family celebrates Christmas you could improvise a few Christmas activities too.
  3. Autumn – leaves change colour and fall in autumn, so you could pretend to rake and jump in leaves. Autumn is also a great time for warmer drinks, so you could have a pretend tea party too.
  4. Winter – pretending to make a fire, having a nice, warm meal or actually getting dressed for winter are all great ways to improvise winter during play.

Seasons PlateThese two examples give you an idea of some of the ways Education on a Plate can facilitate imaginative play, so that it is easier to encourage at home even if you only have a few minutes to spend with your kids. But with nine different plate designs and endless ways to start imaginary play, there are bound to be other ideas you and your children come up with at home. Have you used Education on a Plate in imaginary play? Can you think of other ways these plates could be used to encourage kids imagination? Please share your thoughts with us below so we can spread the Education on a Plate message far and wide.

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