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                                         early education
                                          Dr Cathrine neilsen-hewett, a leCturer in
                                          early ChilDhooD stuDies at MaCquarie university,
                                          explains the iMportanCe of unstruCtureD,
                                          iMaginative play to a ChilD’s DevelopMent




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                 he other evening as i sat eating          it is not until after their third or even fourth    the days i love the most – not bogged down by
                 dinnermytwo-and-a-half-year-old        years that kids’ imaginative play becomes truly        deadlines, expectations or external pressures.
                 proudly presented me with three        interactive. pretend play scenarios often centre          Many role-plays involve simple imitation of
                 piecesofpaper,eachadifferentsize       around playing house, hospital, shops, monsters,       adults. this helps your child to better understand
                 and shape. one was a saw, another      princesses or superheroes, although your child         what adulthood is all about. if you are invited to
a sander and the third a lolly. as i pretended to       will continue to enjoy solitary play activities with   participate, take direction from your child as this
eat the lolly he looked at me wide eyed and said,       miniature toys (dolls’ houses, small trucks, petrol    is their world and they will relish the opportu-
‘Mummy – don’t eat it, it’s just pretend!’              stations, castles and so on) and props. the years      nity to be in charge.
   every young child loves to engage in imagin-         from three to six are generally thought of as the         while some children may need little inspira-
ative play. as adults we fondly recall times when       “golden years” of imaginative play; at no other        tion to engage in imaginative experiences, others
wedressed up in mum’sclothesorparadedaround             time in your child’s life will they be so immersed     may require a little more adult involvement. ask
in Dad’s work boots. imaginative play stimulates        in a world of fantasy.                                 questions to extend their play or add more props
the senses, creates opportunities for exploration          you can encourage and foster imaginative play       wherenecessary.avoidtaking over because when
and creative thinking, and helps your child to          experiences by providing your child with a range       adults are overly intrusive in children’s play, many
develop key skills vital for intellectual and emo-      of props and toys. younger children need realistic     of the intrinsic benefits are lost.
tional growth as well as social success.                props such as miniature figurines,
   the first signs of imaginative play emerge as        kitchenware, medical kits, a cash
early as 12 to 18 months. your 18-month-old may         register and toy animals to get
pour you a cup of tea, pat dolly off to sleep or pick   them started and to sustain their                   iMaginative play has
up a block and bring it to their ear as a phone.        play, but as they get older, unreal-          the greatest iMpaCt on the
   early forms of imaginative play are largely          istic props are equally important
solitary in nature and while many toddlers enjoy        (think different sized containers,
                                                                                                       DevelopMent of key skills
playing with friends, a closer look at their play       cartons, tubes, boxes and sticks).
will tell you that each is under the spell of a sepa-      it’s also good to include open-
rate fantasy.                                           ended objects such as blocks as these extend               Develpmentally, imaginative play helps a child’s
   two-year-olds typically play “in parallel”. My       children’s imagination with unlimited possibili-       self-confidence, self-awareness and self-control.
daughter Jessica and her friend Ben, who are both       ties. parents can further encourage imaginative        it stimulates creative thinking and improves their
two-and-a-half, were playing together recently          play by just providing uninterrupted time – to         memory, language and perspective-taking skills.
with a thomas the tank engine train set. at             create and time to enjoy!                                  imaginative play is the form of play that is
first glance, they looked like they were engaged           preschoolers also enjoy engaging in role-play       most social and has the greatest impact on the
in quite sophisticated complementary play but           and love to dress up. one day my daughter greeted      development of key skills important for a child’s
closer inspection showed both children were             me as the great Becean (her word) – a world            success with peers. when playing creatively with
completely absorbed in their own scripts: as Ben        famous magician. the next day she was a prin-          their friends your child learns to cooperate and
‘toot-tooted’ his engines around the track, past        cess who had been captured by an evil queen. at        compromise, to participate in social activities,
the fat Controller and picking up passengers,           times i am lucky enough to be invited into this        how to respond appropriately to others and to
Jessica was asking thomas whether he would              world of make-believe characterised by limitless       understand social relationships – imagination
like a cup of tea before she put him to bed!            possibilities and boundless adventures.these are       really is the key to success!•
                                                                                                                                                      my child 87

								
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