September 26, 2016

Child Therapy: Encouraging Imaginative Play

Last week, we discussed the social, thinking, and language benefits of imaginative play. Imaginative play allows children to experience other people’s perspectives to familiar activities. It also acts as an outlet for children to practice coping strategies for stressful encounters. Imaginary play emerges around 3-5 years of age. It is important to encourage and allow opportunities for pretend play at home. Below are some strategies to implement for pretend play!

Set the stage:

Costume boxes. Contrary to what people may think, children don’t need store-bought toys to participate in pretend play. Old household items usually work the best! Start collecting old clothes, shoes, bags, hats, and Halloween costumes to add to a costume box or container. Look for doctor white coats, police officer hats, briefcases, and/or other occupational props at thrift stores or yard sales. Children can rummage through the box and create a look for their character!

– Set Design. Designate a room or corner of a space as the imaginary corner. Provide large plastic crates, cardboard blocks, or empty boxes for children to build their scene. Blankets, sheets, and towels are handy to make a fort while playing, as well!

– Props. Having the perfect costume is important, but props are what make the story come to life. Look for old household items that may no longer serve a purpose and put in a prop box. Some ideas include old telephones, cooking utensils, plastic dishes, baby dolls or stuffed animals, microphones, books, stethoscope, chalk board, and so on.

Plot the story line:

– Read, read, and read again. Books are a great way to help children understand the elements of a story, as they include characters, themes, actions, consequences, and an ending. In the early stages of pretend play, children will reenact stories they have heard before.

– Create new stories. A great way to encourage your child to creatively think is by writing a story. Staple pieces of paper together, or draw 8 boxes on a piece of paper. Write the words of the story as your child says them to you. Draw pictures to go along with the words. Once you are finished, read the story out loud and act out the plot!

– Model pretend play. One of the best ways to help your child engage in pretend play is to play with them! Not to mention, it’s a great bonding opportunity! Start with a familiar story or life event. Play out different scenarios and prompt your child with questions like, “What happens next” or “What should they do now”. Once you set the theme, follow your child’s lead and play accordingly.

– Allow valuable time: Pretend play shouldn’t have a time limit. Try to allow a big chunk of time for children to fully immerse themselves into the story. Some stories may last over a couple days; try to be relaxed about a fort in your living room. Pretend play should have little rules, and plenty of room for creativity!

Pretend play is an important developmental milestone, and not to mention, fun for everyone involved! Try to decrease the amount of television time and promote creativity through pretend play! Pretend play doesn’t need to be the same or in the same location every time. In fact, it is best to switch it up! If you are concerned about your child’s play milestones, contact Lumiere Children’s Therapy to talk with a Developmental Therapist.



Mattingly, Rhonda. “Typical Development.” University of Louisville, Louisville. 23 Aug. 2016. Lecture.

“The Importance of Pretend Play in Child Development.” Bright Horizons Family Solutions. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Aug. 2016

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