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Imaginative Play for Toddlers

Updated on April 16, 2013

Today's Toys and Imaginative Play

The terrible twos. You hear a lot of negative comments about this age. My daughter is currently two years old. For myself I have found it to be a most enjoyable time. She is learning new things all the time and is such a joy to play with. Now she actually plays back much to my husband's enjoyment.

At this age many of the parenting articles seem to focus on the importance of imaginative play (those that aren't warning you about too much television time). It seems funny to me that we now need articles to tell us about encouraging our children toward imaginative play. When I was a child it seemed all of our play was imaginative play. Some sticks and rocks and, if you were lucky, some mud and we could play for hours.

Part of the problem is that toys now require no imagination. The dolls are much more realistic. Children used to play with corn husk dolls. Now they have dolls that laugh, talk, eat and even potty. The kitchen and food sets are exact replicas of adult items only in miniture. Even the animals are more realistic (except for their smiling faces). Children no longer need to use their imaginations when their toys are doing all the work for them.

For their part, children must have an inate understanding of the importance of imaginative play, which is why they always seem quite happy playing with the box and ignoring the expensive toy that came in it.

Where Do the Children Play

Research and Imaginative Play

What do the experts say about imaginative play? According to an American Psychological Association article "Playing Make-Believe Prepares Kids for the Real World" imaginative play actually prepares children for school. The researchers even created a video training program "Learning Through Play for School Readiness" to enlighten parents about the importance of play.

The Alliance for Childhood is an organization that is also trying to enlighten parents about the importance of play. The Alliance promotes policies and practices that support children's healthy development, love of learning, and joy in living. They published an article with tips on encouraging playtime, which includes a list of additional resources. The article, "Time for Play, Every Day: It's Fun - and Fundamental", also mentions some of the modern day culprits behind loss of childhood playtime.

The NPR article "Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills" by Alix Spiegel also talks about these modern day culprits. Howard Chudacoff, a historian, says that during the 19th century childhood play brought to mind activities. Yet now a person asked about childhood play thinks first of toys. Chudacoff claims that this commercialization of child's play is "a trend which begins to shrink the size of children's imaginative space".

The next great culprit in shrinking the size of children's imaginative space according to the Pediatrics article "Commercialization of Children's Television and Its Effect on Imaginative Play" is program length commercials. Television-activated toys, the product of these commercials, are the next step in limiting children's imaginative space. These television toys now tell children not only what to play but how to play.

Imaginative play has the important role of teaching children self-regulation, according to the NPR article by Alix Spiegel. Self-regulation is a greater indicator of a child's success than even IQ, and it is a skill which has diminished significantly in the last 60 years.

There is a bredth of research beyond what I mentioned supporting the importance of imaginative play. Yet still teachers and parents are depriving children of this valuable tool in development. Invest in a fence for your backyard or find a local park, and allow your children some free-wheeling time to discover themselves. it will be worth more than all the expensive toys you could buy.

Children and Nature Now

A Suburban Childhood of Play in the 1960s and 70s

Cat Stevens - Where Do The Children Play


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    • wayseeker profile image


      7 years ago from Colorado

      There is some nice information here about the background of why imagination is so important. Thanks for making it available.


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