The Power of Imagination
"What do you want to be when you grow up?" Ask that question to a young child and not only will you hear answers like pilot, superhero, astronaut, ballerina, movie star, doctor and firefighter, but the child will usually scamper off to get the hat, cape, space suit, tutu, sunglasses or fire helmet needed to illustrate their chosen career.
As parents and caregivers, we know the coveted place that role-playing and dress-up holds in the lives of our children, but in addition to being just plain fun, imaginative role-play is one of the most important play patterns for your children.
Who doesn't remember turning their bath towel into a makeshift cape and battling all manner of beasts and bad guys from the safety of our bedrooms? We didn't know that we were onto something and probably neither did our parents; we just knew that it was fun to pretend to be someone else.
Benefits Beyond the Toy Box
Children who make up plots and characters through role-play not only smile more, but are engaged in activities that build a stronger sense of self-confidence. Child development experts agree that dress-up play not only stimulates imagination, it can also be tracked to improved vocabulary and social skills.
Taking on other roles armed only with a towel, some of Dad's old ties, a little costume jewelry or maybe an old bridesmaid dress from the back of Mom's closet was an intrinsic part of our exploration of the world as children. How can our children venture into life's uncharted territories without first imagining their way across the ocean in a pirate's hat?
Research shows that children who engage in this type of imaginative, open-ended play are more creative thinkers who eventually mature into better problem solvers.
I have watched my daughter closely observe my wife dressing for an evening out and then return to her own room after storing away every detail. My daughter would then carefully mimic her mother's every move, as she pulled her dress-up items from their trunk and dressed herself for her own imaginary adventure. It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it is also a boundless avenue to imagination, learning and growth.
Role-play helps teach children about cooperation and taking turns, and as a result it encourages confidence and socialization. Research also tells us that children who are encouraged in imaginative play prove to be more creative, have a richer vocabulary, are less impulsive and aggressive and often become leaders with their playmates.
Role-play is exactly the type of imaginative play that child development experts recognize as preparation for learning and preparation for the rest of their lives.
Encouraging Imaginative Play
Role-play is at the core of childhood, where there is no limit to where we can go or who we can become. Putting together a dress-up box for your child is a worthwhile activity. Fill it with clothes for both genders and jazz it up a bit with a few more glamorous items: a feather boa, some costume jewelry or a crown.
You can encourage your children to play, make suggestions or even join in, but it won't be long before they leave you in their pixie dust as their imaginations run wild, taking them on a magical journey of learning and fun.