I loved making up games growing up. Lots of free time was great for encouraging imagination and pretend. As kids in California, my best friends and I would play BFG:ButterFly Girls. We would run all over our backyards and the nearby playground pretending we had wings when we were up in the sky and when we came to earth our wings magically transformed into cloaks so we could blend in. I was very disappointed when I moved to Texas and all the girls in that area were “too grown-up” for imaginary play. Or at least the girls my age, so I played with kids a couple of years younger.
Fast forward a bunch of years. My kids play pretend games all the time. They find a place a window at the playground and suddenly they’re the guy at the drive-through. Or a short-order cook. They run all over the playscapes fighting off “bad guys.” In the pool, they’re drowning and someone needs to rescue them. It’s wonderfully fun to watch.
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Watching their imagination and pretend play makes me smile
Part of why I think they play like this so much is because I haven’t been hyper-nervous about what they do. I believe that TV has its place, not a central place, but there are things to be gained from watching it(and not just PBS). After watching Scooby-Doo for a while they incorporated fighting monsters into their play. Edited to add: I was thinking that over and felt like it came off as people who don’t let their kids watch TV are crazy and I have the best solutions. That is not my intent at all, more I think that some TV shows can add to your kids’ imagination because it gives them new ideas to add to their play. I get frustrated by parenting blogs where it feels like the person is on a high horse and thinks everyone else is wrong. So, I try not to do that too much here…..
We read lots of books. Both of their parents are bookworms, and we don’t just read books. We also get them magazines and comics. They LOVE superheroes, and there is a comic with the Justice League that is aimed at preschoolers. They’ve devoured them, I think quite literally.
I also think playing with older kids helps enhance their imagination. They get to see more complex ideas for play and my kids have seen that.
How to encourage imagination and pretend play
Create a Costume Box. I scour the after-Halloween sales for costumes my kids would like. I also make some. I made my boys a couple of sets of knight armor. I’ve made more capes than I can count. I simply cut a cape shape out of a knit fabric or felt or fleece, and iron on velcro. That easy.
Some quick ways to build your costume box:
- Shop at your local thrift store around Halloween, or in general, grown-up clothes make great dress-up clothes, as do random sashes, scarves, and hats
- Get some quick costume box builders: explorer dress up box or fairy dress up box, as a general rule you’ll get more bang for your buck if you stay away from name brand dress up (for example Disney or Marvel)
- Accessories are multi-purpose and can be easily passed around
Create a Play kitchen. this is honestly a great investment for any parent, with lots of play food. If you don’t have enough play food they will make anything into that. My kids have brought me a “plate” full of train tracks and said, “Here’s your soup Mommy.” Yummm…..
- Your pretend kitchen doesn’t have to be fancy. My kids got more play out of that shoe-box kitchen than they did the fancy one we bought.
- If you have an Ikea nearby, they have some great details on all sorts of pretend kitchen toys, and some amazing miniature kitchen items.
Stock up on Legos. I’ve just moved my kids up to the little ones, we’re donating the Duplos to my Mom’s house. This is one area where you don’t want to buy the off-brand, with the possible exception of Mega Block. My kids will all sit and play for hours with these. I’m actually going to put a post together later about this (As an example: Lego History). I’ll admit each kid has their own thing. Mine never really played with blocks, but Legos……..