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Sparking Your Child's Imagination With Toys And Props

Aug 18, 2007
Imaginative play is crucial to your child's social and intellectual development. Creativity, empathy , problem solving and social constructions all begin here. By promoting and encouraging your child's imagination, you are providing the building blocks of healthy, normal behavior.

Though imaginative play is often unstructured play, that doesn't mean there aren't particular toys or props that can encourage and spark your child's imagination.

One crucial distinction is that between "open ended" toys and "licensed" toys. A "licensed" toy is pre-defined, one based on a television character or a popular movie. Your child is told how to play with it and in what manner the toy should be used. Essentially, the toy's use and your child's imagination are immediately constricted and undermined.

On the other hand, "open ended" toys allow your child to construct their own play parameters. Examples of "open ended" toys might be clay, wooden blocks, nondescript dolls or simple props not tied to television or books. By offering up simple toys not tied down to someone else's idea of play, you will be encouraging your child's creativity, resourcefulness and competence.

Props are a good way to bolster imaginative play and they provide a good starting point. A play kitchen could lead to months of pretend cooking. A firetruck can provide hours of entertainment playing "fireman." A tea set can become a full house party. But, whether it's an expensive high-tech go-kart or a simple, wooden push-car, props not only contribute to imaginative play, but can also help get things started. Sometimes, the simpler the toy, the better.

The use of props also extends to costumes. Playing "dress-up" can mean anything from a paper hat to a purchased costume, but it all contributes to healthy social development. Role playing allows your child to work their imagination, practice social scenarios, solve creative problems, and work co-operatively with their play partners.

The key to finding the right props or toys is to choose items at the right level. A 6 year-olds' complex imaginative play scenarios could be way beyond the ability or interest of a toddler, just as a basic game of peek-a-boo holds little interest for that same toddler.

If you're having trouble encouraging imaginative play in your child, then try starting it yourself and beginning by engaging your child with you. But, remember, it's your child's development, not yours so let them take the lead when they're ready.
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