Better Than Pretend: The Real Importance of Imaginary Play

superhero imaginary play with child and mom

Most of us are familiar with our children pretending to be superheroes, princesses, firefighters, or anything else you can dream up. Not only is this a fun playtime activity, but it’s an important part of every child’s development. So what exactly is imaginary play and why is it important?

Imaginary play, also known as pretend play, make-believe play, or fantasy play, is when a child uses their imagination to role-play scenarios they have seen, experienced, or would like to experience. This type of play can be engaging for little ones, but it also has a large impact on key skills that are important for their development. Imaginary play works on speech and language development, social skills, independence, and many other beneficial skills.


What skills are targeted with Imaginary play?

Social development: During imaginary play, a child can work on turn-taking, sharing with others, and working together to promote social development and motivation to interact with peers. When engaging in imaginary play, children learn to become more connected and confident with other peers as well as gives them an opportunity to experiment with social boundaries. 

Language Development: When your child engages in imaginary play, it encourages communication and thinking out loud. It gives them an opportunity to describe and narrate what they are doing. You can promote language through this play by asking questions that promote longer responses or model by describing how you are imagining what you are doing. This type of play enhances language and vocabulary skills. 

Emotional development: Imaginary play promotes empathy and emotional development. For example, your child can pretend to be a nurse caring for a patient. It allows them to learn to be kind and gentle while helping others at the same time. In addition, it gives them the opportunity to learn about different types of emotions and what ways are appropriate to act around peers.

Independence: Imaginary play encourages children to explore, make their own rules, and create stories independently. It allows them to independently use the skills and knowledge they have already gained to expand and incorporate it through the use of their own ideas. 


How do you incorporate imaginary play into your child’s daily activities?

Almost every activity is ripe with opportunities to dream up fantasy scenarios or imagine yourself in a different situation. The key is to ask engaging questions, model new scenarios, and let your child take the wheel while their imagination does the driving. Here are a few easy activities to get started:

  • Singing and dancing
  • Playing dress-up
  • Pretending to be a certain profession (doctor, teacher, actor)
  • Pretending to be their favorite superhero or character (Superman, Wonder Woman)
  • Cooking an imaginary meal
  • Putting on a puppet show or play
  • Planting a fake garden
  • Throw picnics and tea parties
  • Take an imaginary grocery store or shopping run

For more ideas on expanding your child’s development through imaginary play with certain toys, check out our blog on toys that help with speech development!

Written by Brittany Becvar M.S. CCC-SLP


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