Last updated on Feb 23rd, 2021 at 12:47 pm

By Simone Suckerman

It’s been found that when young children use their imaginations in play, they’re most creative, perform better at school and develop a strong problem-solving approach to learning. Imaginative play takes vastly different forms through the ages and stages of childhood. Here’s what to expect and how you can encourage your little one’s imagination.

12-18 months

  • The first signs of imaginative play are largely solitary in nature. Parents can start by introducing arts and crafts like scribbling, tearing and pasting. Stick to non-toxic, washable crayons and jumbo markers. To make things easier, tape the paper to a table, the floor, or an easel to keep it from sliding around.
  • Finger-painting’s also a fantastic craft to introduce at this age. It incorporates the wonderfully tactile gloop that babies and toddlers love to squish through their fingers. Another tactile activity is plasticine and play dough. Toddlers enjoy kneading and rolling the dough with their fists and fingers. Add another dimension by including different shapes and figures.

Two to three years old

  • At two, children’s play is more interactive but they’re still involved in their own fantasy world. In these early stages of imaginative play, children may need facilitation with realistic props and toys like pots and spoons for a kitchen, and a fork and spade for gardening.
  • At this age, children may also need an adult to set up a play situation and guide them. Give your child moulds and let him build sandcastles in a sandpit. Ask him who lives in the sandcastles and what the people do in there.

Three to four years old

At this age, children enjoy more unrealistic props like cardboard boxes, sticks and empty bottles. This allows for even greater creativity because their imagination isn’t restricted by pre-described objects.

Three to six years old

These are considered the ‘golden years’ of imaginative play – at no other time will your child be more engrossed in a world of fantasy. At this age children will enjoy role-play and dress-up.

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Play box

Have these ‘props’ available to bring your child’s fantasy characters to life:
  • Tiaras
  • Magic wands
  • Masks
  • High-heel shoes
  • Play medical equipment
  • Play tool sets
  • Chalkboards
  • Dolls
  • Play food
  • Capes
  • Play swords.