Imaginative Play And Its Impact On Development

17 February 2020


It’ll come as little surprise that we’re passionate believers in the importance of imaginative play. When children use their imaginations, during play, they are learning to solve problems and to relate to the adult world in which they live, as well as developing crucial psychological and emotional capacities.

Reported in The Telegraph in 2018, child psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology and author of The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, the importance of imagination in all areas of child development cannot be overstated. 

“This kind of play allows children to tap into their creativity and really run with it, without any boundaries, in a way that’s very freeing,” she said.

“Put simply, imagination is the ability to create visual images in the mind’s eye, which allows us to explore all sorts of images and ideas without being constrained by the limits of the physical world. This is how children begin to develop problem-solving skills, coming up with new possibilities, new ways of seeing and being, which develop important faculties in critical thinking that will help the child throughout life.”

And, as we recently reported, Dan O’Hare, from the BPS’s educational and child-psychology division, said “... play is vital for school children… [it] isn’t just a means to an end: it’s fundamental to children’s development and well being”. 

But with this month’s Children’s Mental Health Week we’ve been focusing on the roles different areas of learning and play can have on children’s health and well being. Imaginative play can have a huge impact on this, helping children to explore their inner thoughts and feelings as well as learning ways to recognise their own emotional responses to things.  

Sally Goddard Blythe continued:

“Between the ages of three and four, children begin to engage with modes of speech, attaching words to emotional experiences – we might hear our child telling off their dollies for being naughty, for example, or lovingly tucking them into their cot before bed. In this sort of imaginative activity, children can act out through play and private speech all the things that are going on in their life, processing how they felt when they were told off themselves, and developing an empathetic understanding of why their parent was angry, or how it feels to care and be cared for.”

Imaginative play is also important for the development of social skills such as empathy, cooperation and respect for others’ feelings. In a 2013 study on “Pretend and Physical Play”, psychologists Eric Lindsay and Malinda Colwell observed that children who engage in imaginative play express more emotional engagement, thoughtfulness and understanding, and less negative emotional expression such as selfishness and anger, and score higher on tests of emotional regulation and understanding.

“Creative and wondrous, filled with inspirational and unforgettable learning experiences.”

That’s what a primary school experience should be, according to Glebe Academy in Stoke-on-Trent.
Headteacher Suzanne Oakes-Smith wanted pupils to enjoy and achieve in a safe, magical place to learn. Situated in a highly deprived, heavily built up area, many houses have no gardens so opportunities for children to play safely outdoors are limited. The school wanted to tackle that problem head on and imaginative play provision was a critical part of the scheme.

For inspiration as to how you could introduce imaginative play at your school why not take a look at this video case study from Glebe Academy in Staffordshire?





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