Imaginative Play Music and Dance with a Toddler

There are two types of imaginative play and these are fantasy play and imitative play. Imaginative or ‘pretend’ play has been found to help with child’s development, as it encourages certain connections to be made in the brain, and in toddlers there is a correlation between high levels of intelligence and the ability to engage in imaginative play. A child who is pretending that a shoe is a dinosaur or a piece of food is a car or telling you a long tale about a fairy is not acting up or telling falsehoods, but forming an important understanding of the world through imaginative play, in these cases role play and contextualisation. Dramatic play has also been shown to and emotional skills, while role play has been linked to language development, and problem-solving play has been shown to improve thinking skills.

Psychologists have found a relationship between animal play and human play and have concluded that play means survival. It is therefore not possible for a toddler to engage in too much imaginative play. Play is an important factor in the development of all mammals, no matter how trivial certain actions might seem to us. When an animal pounces on its young or plays chasing or hide and seek, it is using role play to teach about hunting and evading predators. In the same, trivial-seeming play such as a toddler copying mum and dad’s actions, for example mimicking dad shaving, or making a concoction of ‘ingredients’ in a container the way that mum does in the kitchen, the young child is in fact learning to understand the world and understand new and important concepts needed for social survive.

For these reasons, imaginative play does not have to involve expensive toys and props. The definition of imagination is ‘creating an image not present to the senses’. This is why a young child will often favour wrapping paper and packaging as much as, if not more than, the present inside when s/he is given a gift. Toddlers love playing with objects that are ordinary to most adults, such as boxes and wrapping paper, especially when they are rarely exposed to them. Giving your toddler a box of safe ordinary household items to play with can be just as stimulating as an expensive age-appropriate toy, because the sky’s the limit when it comes to pretend play in a toddler’s world.

However, props are not a necessity. Toddlers benefit from fantasy games played with peers and alone, without the need for additional accessories. Left to their own devices, most children will take to imaginative play like a duck to water, but parents can also join in to encourage them. Simple role play such as becoming a tickle monster/tiger/other scary creature that gets down on all fours and clomps its way towards a child growling ‘I’m coming to get you!’ will help to stimulate the ‘pretend’ area of a child’s brain and demonstrate that props are not needed for fun and effective role play.

Dance and music play an important role in imaginative play, as they engage specific areas of the brain and provide positive stimulation for young children. Dancing involves spontaneous movement and physical interaction with the world, while music has been linked with understanding personal emotions. Most children enjoy making noise and a simple instrument like a xylophone or a few pots and pans and a wooden spoon will provide a child with an outlet for creative play.

Messy fun is high up on the list of types of imaginative play. This might involve splashing about in water with a a few household items such as a sieve and measuring spoons, or colouring or painting. Other engaging imaginative activities include singing together and making up the words, playing with soft toys, enacting scenarios such as tea parties using soft toys, dressing up, making costumes, and holding conversations in funny voices.

The main thing with all of these activities is to allow the child to decide how to play with the objects and environment at hand, rather than to stunt pretend play by dictating how the child should play. For this reason, some commonly bought plastic toys can actually be restrictive to a toddler’s learning, because they have to be played with in a specific way. If a toddler becomes frustrated with such a toy, it is best to take it away and replace it with something that can be played with in a more versatile way.

There is an ongoing debate between child specialists surrounding the transition of young children to the learning-based environment. While toddlers who attend schooling institutions early do tend to flourish academically later in life, schooling institutions do not incorporate a large amount of imaginative play and the results of this are difficult to quantify, particularly since it is difficult to measure how much imaginative play a child engages with at home.