ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE – THE IMPORTANCE OF IMAGINATIVE PLAY
Almost all mamas my generation grew up playing Barbie dolls. Some mothers feel that the young generation is influenced by the life size Barbie to surgically alter their appearance to mimic them.
In all fairness, Barbie has given girls aged 2 – 12 freedom to explore, create and imagine their dream world – a limitless world with no boundaries. Imaginative play is an essential part of a child’s cognitive and social development. Barbie has helped to nurture creativity allowing girls to develop and discover their own sense of style with her huge wardrobe as moves along with current fashion. In short, she is the original fashion icon that has inspired many fashionistas globally and played muse to many designers.
We had a chat with Dr Cecilia Chu, a Clinical Psychologist from Raffles Counselling Centre about imaginative play.
BM: What are the benefits of imaginative play? And how we as parents can help them with imaginative play?
CC: A variety of forms of play – whether it’s physical play, play with objects (e.g. toys), symbolic play (with nursery rhymes, drawing or music), imaginative play/role-playing, structured/rule-based play (like games) – are critical for the healthy physical, emotional, social and intellectual development of children. In particular, imaginative play/role-playing allows children to exercise their creativity to create and explore a world that they can master and learn to put themselves in the shoes of others, and also to focus their attention for a sustained period. For example, imaginative play allows children to create scenarios where they act out their fantasies, copy what they see adults or older children are doing, learn to solve problems or difficulties in their own way, try out new behaviours, talk to themselves or others about what is happening in their play,etc – these skills are essential to helping them learn how to regulate their impulses, emotions, and problem-solve, and build confidence in themselves to cope with the real world.
Parents can stimulate and prolong play time with their children by providing them with the space, time and variety of toys and objects appropriate for their age, and inviting them to explore. Then stand back and watch what interests the children, and slowly move to join in once the children show interest, and play along. For toddlers and pre-schoolers, parents can also verbally describe the play situation and what they observe the children to be doing (like how sports commentators talk on TV), like “Oh, look – we have toys here. Cars, building blocks, puzzles, tea cups, dolls, animals, crayons and paper… What would you pick?”, or “Look, doggy here wants to play with donkey. Woof woof!” (and then move the toy in a manner that mimics friendly, playful behaviour). Don’t be afraid to act silly or child-like while playing – that is helpful for bonding with your children and it does not make you less of a parental figure. Try to avoid “teaching” or directing how children should play – that makes you less fun a playmate, reduce the chance of the child exercising spontaneity/creativity, and you will also miss out on learning about what your child likes or is good at.
BM: How can a child participate in imaginative play?
CC: Imaginative play can be introduced to a child as early as a year old. A child may first learn to play by himself (and adults can stimulate imaginative play with toys and dolls), or with an adult caregiver, and alongside other children (but not with them). By about 3 years old, children will be able to enjoy imaginative play with other children, for example, having a tea party, or playingteacher and students, or police and thieves.
BM: How do you prepare your child for imaginative play?
CC: In addition what I have mentioned earlier, to promote high quality play time, turning the TV and other noise-generating equipment off is a good idea. Studies on children suggest that the TV distracts children and disrupts their attention to play.
BM: With all the new digital technology advancement, why is imaginative play even more relevant in today’s digital age?
CC: Electronic gadgets with apps for children such as tablet computers and smart phones can be a useful tool for children to learn, especially if the apps are interactive (that is, they require responses from the child rather than passive watching). However, as with all toys and play activities, variety in play is the key to healthy development. So parents and caregivers should be careful not to use electronic gadgets as babysitting tools and leave their children for many hours in front of a screen – these may result in poor eyesight, disrupted attention spans, and poor bonding and interaction skills with adults and other children over the long term.
Planning our bubbas’ imaginative playtimes is nurturing their emotional, social and intellectual development now that we have the right reasons and more ideas.
- Review: Barbie Iron-on Style (bubbamama.com)