One of the best things about kids is their endless capacity for imagination and the joy they get out of it. And it’s truly amazing to watch as they play with the simplest thing (oh, say, for example, an empty cardboard box) and they make it become anything they want.
However, the kinds of toys your kids are playing with can have a profound influence on just how far that wide-open realm of possibility will expand for them as they play. If the majority of their toys are related to their favorite television shows or movies—toys that already have plots and personalities attached to them—a child’s first tendency is simply to re-enact those plots as they play with their toys.
There is nothing wrong with this, of course, and a child’s imagination is certainly not going to be stifled for life if they play in this way. Eventually, they will most likely branch out and change the roles of their character-based toys as they play. With most kids, imagination will always find a way.
But to help kids exercise their free-ranging imaginations, consider making sure they have easy access to blank-slate toys—toys that have no pre-existing stories attached to them. This provides them with a fresh start that gives them no choice but to make up their own stories as they play.
Here’s a few tips from some related articles:
- In an article published on WebMD, Uma Thurman speaks about an organization called Room to Grow that helps parents of low-income families to enrich the lives of their children, focusing on the developmental years of birth to age three. In this interview she also mentions the importance of play to facilitate learning and recommends simple toys, such as basic character toys (like animals or family figures), art supplies, and building blocks—toys that encourage imagination and flexible thinking.
- An article on NPR.org relates that studies have shown that imaginative play helps kids exercise better self-control in their lives. It cites recommendations from researchers that kids engage in “complex imaginative play” by planning and acting out scenarios, using symbolic props (like using a towel for a cape, etc.)—preferably for extended periods of time to reap maximum benefits. They also encourage reading story-books together.
- An article published by the National Association for the Education of Young Children offers the following tip: basic is better when it comes to toys. Try to choose open-ended toys that kids can use in multiple ways.
And one more tip from me, a non-expert:
- Take some of these basic, open-ended types of toys and then play with them with your kids. See where your imaginations will take you together. I feel confident that I can guarantee it will be one of the best gifts you ever give them.