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If you have young children it’s quite likely that you’ve watched them play or even joined in. Personally, I’ve always been amazed at how imaginative some children can be, especially if you give them the freedom to express themselves. What most people don’t realise however is that children actually need to play and need to use their imagination as both processes help them to emotionally grow and develop essential skills for the future.

One of the most important aspects of play is the social and emotional skills that it teaches. When a child is playing more often than not they are also pretending. This helps them socially and emotionally as it allows them an outlet for their thoughts and a way to experiment with them. Not only that but, when a child is playing with other children, they are learning many skills that will serve them in the future such as responsibility, creative problem-solving and cooperation.

As a child plays they also can, at least for a short time, ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’ as they say. This will teach them about a human trait that is very valuable; empathy. The fact is, most children see the world from a very egocentric point of view and through play this viewpoint can be opened up and their world with it. It can also be a great way to build self-esteem.

Children at play are also developing their language skills. Not only do they experiment with words but they also begin to see how words can be used to describe things more easily, something that can be quite valuable as they get older and begin to interact on a higher level in school and in their studies. Playing also will help create a connection between the words that they speak and written language, something that will be of great use when it comes time to start learning how to read.

Thinking and cognitive skills are greatly enhanced through play, especially when a child wishes to ‘be’ someone or ‘go’ somewhere and they need the tools to do so. Figuring out what they need in order to achieve their goal will give their brain the impetus and experience they need to get more important tasks done in the future.

While many parents aren’t very keen on it, rough play between children or between children and their parents is also excellent for early brain development and behavior regulation. In effect, letting your kids get a little rough (albeit in a situation where they have parental guidance) will actually help them to become more adjusted and socially stable people in the future and give them skills that will help them determine what’s appropriate and, conversely, what’s not.

If you’re keen on nurturing your child’s imagination here are a few suggestions that will spark your young child’s mind.

·         Using large, empty cardboard boxes as a home, Castle, Fort or other cool location.

·         Old but interesting clothing like hats, scarves, ties and so forth to let them ‘be’ someone else.

·         Old sheets and blankets can be used to make tents or ‘flying carpets’.

Personally, for boys and girls of practically any age any type of safe building block toy is also an excellent idea that will not only serve their brains but also their hands and dexterity. (Around here we have a particular bias towards Lego, one of our all-time favorite toys.)

So if you’re keen on making sure that your children grow up to be well-adjusted and intelligent members of society make sure you allow them to play and use their imagination regularly while they are growing up. Better yet, get down on the floor and play with them as you’ll both have a great time and you’ll find that a little bit of play can do wonders for the soul. Enjoy.

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