Times of Oman - - LIFESTYLE -

Play is a child’s work, and it comes nat­u­rally to kids. While we of­ten fo­cus on how a child’s in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties are com­ing along, the role of imag­i­na­tive play in child­hood de­vel­op­ment is of­ten over­looked.

Imag­i­na­tive play comes in many forms, whether play­ing house dur­ing a play date or pre­tend­ing a card­board box is a magic por­tal to the di­nosaur age. What­ever a child chooses, imag­i­na­tive play ex­pands cre­ativ­ity, prob­lem-solv­ing skills and cog­ni­tive think­ing. That is why for chil­dren in the 3- to 5-year age range, it is cru­cial they are given ac­cess to time, space and play­things to fully ex­pe­ri­ence it, says Lau­rie Schacht, pub­lisher of The Toy In­sider.

“Imag­i­na­tive play en­ables young chil­dren to nav­i­gate their new and grow­ing emo­tional thoughts, as well as bound­aries within their own so­cial and fam­ily group set­tings,” says Schacht. “A sim­ple doll can cre­ate a new world or en­vi­ron­ment for a child to role play, as they in­ter­act with their toy and learn the im­por­tance and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of caring for some­thing.”

While chil­dren need lit­tle prompt­ing to play and pre­tend, there are many things par­ents and care­givers can do to en­cour­age and sup­port imag­i­na­tive play. Here are a few ideas and tips to get started.

* Build a dress-up sta­tion: With a dress-up sta­tion, kids can take their pre­tend games to the next level of fun — and per­haps even stage a play to en­ter­tain the en­tire fam­ily. In­clude hats, funny glasses, fake beards, wigs and shoes. Tip: Yard sales and thrift shops are a gold mine for in­ex­pen­sive, gen­tly used cos­tumes and ac­ces­sories.

* Im­i­ta­tion is good: Kids like to mimic real life sit­u­a­tions in their play, help­ing them make sense of their world. That makes kitchen sets, play tools and even a play shav­ing set so much more than sim­ple amuse­ments. So if they want to cook a pre­tend din­ner, be sure and ar­rive “hungry!”

* Card­board boxes are magic: With the help of a few sim­ple, ev­ery­day ob­jects around the house, kids can make their own play­things — and put their cre­ative spin on it. Penne pasta, a lit­tle food colour­ing and string lets them make and design their own colour­ful beaded neck­laces. And don’t for­get, to a kid, noth­ing holds more pos­si­bil­i­ties than a large empty box!

* It’s OK to pre­tend in pub­lic: Just about any out­ing gives kids the per­fect back­drop and in­spi­ra­tion for imag­i­na­tive play — and lets them burn off en­ergy. You can kick things off with a sim­ple “what if” state­ment such as, “What if the play­set was a ship at sea?” And just watch as the kids take over and do the rest!

* Say hello to their imag­i­nary friends: As they talk, lis­ten to and have ad­ven­tures with a doll, stuffed an­i­mal or ac­tion fig­ure, they’re de­vel­op­ing their un­der­stand­ing of re­la­tion­ships. They’re also learn­ing some­thing about ex­press­ing emo­tion and con­nect­ing with oth­ers. So when they ask you to say good night to Teddy, just go with it!

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