Let’s imagine. Close your eyes and take yourself to a calm place, a place where you feel happy and content. Where did you go? A tropical paradise… A fruitful meadow… Outer space?? Wherever you went you used a combination of previous knowledge and a handful of imagination. These two key concepts go hand in hand in and out of the classroom. Learning needs to happen but in order for knowledge to truly embed within a child’s mind there must be a form of imagination. At night we all dream, some may remember dreams vividly, others may remember fragments. When we dream a third concept comes into play. Dreams are a mixture of knowledge of the world, memories from your past and imagination. These three concepts form a cycle which is also the system of learning. The more children know and experience, the greater their imagination becomes… leading them to WANT to know more and adapt their imagination accordingly. It is interesting as a teacher to watch how children play and interact with inanimate objects. Give a child a box and it will be transformed into something magical, something dynamic, something logical. In order for this to happen children need experiences in their lives to begin this cycle of learning.
But how, as parents, do we ‘teach’ imagination? Well the simple answer is: we cannot teach, we must model. Modelling imagination is something us parents do every single day, most of the time without even realising it. The simple act of talking through the day’s plans or talking your way through packing your bag builds imagination. “So, once we’re in the car we’ll drive to the farm, hopefully we’ll see some sheep and we can eat our picnic. Hopefully the sun will stay out and we’ll have so much fun!” As you are talking they are imagining (as best they can with their knowledge) the day ahead. “Car, animals, sandwiches, laughing, sunshine”. Fragments of their imagination may be blank or have question marks around it but they are imagining as much as they can. This day will have a double imprint on their minds – one they had imagined beforehand and then one from their real memory. This will then sink in and be a base for future role play. Modelling life events with toys or siblings such as: going to the dentist or the first day of school, help lay the imaginative foundations for knowledge building, and more importantly anxiety relieving.
Why is this concept so important and why have I rambled about it for so long? It isn’t just a tool for playtime, it is so much more than that. Imaginative play:
- Builds children’s character and personality.
- Develops language and key communication skills
- Helps to relieve anxiety about things that have happened or may happen
- Can support critical thinking and problem solving
- Allows children to connect with others
So, when you walk into a Nursery or Reception class and notice that most of the children are in dress up, talking with a strange accent or seem to ‘be in another world’ take a moment to wonder what sort of scenes are playing out in their minds, what imaginative arena are they in. When children are able to live in the abstract, fantasy world they then find it easier and more natural to move this into the written world. Meaning their rich imagination from play are the core foundations of their writing, reading and understanding of the world around them.
My top tips for modelling imagination:
- Collect or invest in props! Cheap object or things you may have laying around that can replicate a variety of experiences or give them a starting point to play. Kitchen items, an old phone, note pads, old hats and scarves. The list is endless! If you have used it at some point during your child’s life then they will probably be able to role play with it.
- Let them lead play! Most children just want someone to boss around. Allow them to tell you what they want you to act as in their little scenarios. Some children may even tell you what to say! Make suggestions to improve the craziness of the pretend and you’ll be on to a winner.
- Remind them of fun times!“Remember when we went to the café last week and had chocolate cake. Let’s pretend we’re there. You be the waitress.” Giving children specific roles from their past experiences helps to broaden their vocabulary and use words or phrases they may not use regularly.
- Recycle or junk model? You may think “What is this?!” when your child hands you an egg carton with glitter and pasta thrown up all over it… but it was born from their imagination (think Forky from Toy Story). So, before you throw the rubbish in the recycling, give it a few day in a junk modelling box and see what wonders are built.
- Give them a voice Using teddies, dollies or finger puppets lets children talk about things they may find easier coming from a toy. Sometimes children open up about anxieties through play and passing the voice to their teddy makes this easier.
The biggest and easiest tip to support imagination building is reading. Books, books and more books. The bigger the variety the deeper the imagination will build. How do children know what Aliens wearing underpants look like? Claire Freedman will tell you. What about that well known character with knobbly knees and turn out toes? I’m sure Julia Donalson can introduce you to the Gruffalo. Or how about a family adventure to find a grizzly character? Michael Rosen can take you on a bear hunt. Every story book is filled with images, vocabulary and plotlines to help give children’s minds a new adventure. So if you turn your living room into a pirate ship, find treasure in the garden or simply build a fort from blankets and cushions, there are no wrong answers when supporting children’s imagination, everything is worth a shot and every moment of play will take them somewhere new. Go along for the ride, I promise they want you right there!