Imaginative Play

Imaginative play can overlap with creative play. While children are building a garage or making ‘pastry’ they enjoy this for its own sake but in addition often imagine themselves playing a particular role – the garage man, builder and car driver all rolled into one, or mummy making the pudding for the next meal. This kind of play can reflect what children see going on around them, it gives them the opportunity to reverse normal roles (so that at least in their games they can be ‘top dog’) and often is the way they play out something that has puzzled or frightened them. It can also be a legitimate way for a child to’ hit out’ at people and things symbolically such as by beating a rag doll instead of the baby, knowing that to damage the baby would not be acceptable. This can be a great relief to children who have not the vocabulary to talk it out as adults so often do.

Dressing-up clothes and some props are very useful for this kind of play. Younger children seem prepared to do much more imagining than older ones perhaps because their games are less complex and because they deal with fewer aspects of an imaginative situation at a time. The toddler who was content to just ride round the garden pretending to do the shopping could not have dealt with a play shop of old tins, cartons and imitation money, plus perhaps another child obtrusively insisting on adding yet more ideas to the game. In two years’ time he will demand all these extra things because he knows more and can do more.

Again great care and tact is necessary on the part of adults. It is all too easy to misunderstand or underestimate a child’s grasp of fact and fantasy. If I mny tell a tale against myself I remember very well a small child who every day for a week had beaten a teddy bear very viciously. It was a toy which belonged to the playgroup and if the little girl needed something to beat it could reasonably be used for this purpose – but it was quite new for this child to behave in that way. As I walked by on the eighth day this happened I said ‘Poor toddy, what did he do?’ The child stopped the smacking, gave me a v.itheringly scornful look and said ‘Teddies can’t feel anything – and they can’t do anything either.’ On the whole it is wist for adults to stay out of such games unless they are specifically invited, and even the;, to be careful not to take over the game. Their role is to provide just enough material to let children play in this way and tc add new items from time to time so that the games can progress.