Imaginative play - Benefits of Pretend Play for Child's Development, Games, Scenarious, Ideas



By Slava Prakhiy

The importance of Imaginative play in child's development cannot be stressed enough. In our modern overly technological society a child's imagination is often paralysed with fast-moving pictures of a television set or brightly colored 3-D worlds of computer games. Often, parents concentrate on getting their preschoolers school-ready by paying a lot of attention to learning the alphabet and numbers but forgetting how important it is to nurture their child's imagination. A number of psychological studies have shown that pretend play prepares children for life in the real world because during play children learn important life skills like taking turns, sharing responsibility, empathy and many others. So let's see what games we can come up with to foster our children's imaginations.

House/Cave/Camping Tent

To set up this game you will need two chairs, one big blanket and a flashlight. You can also use a table instead of the chairs. If you are in a "Cave" or a "Tent" gather some food supplies and water and prepare for an adventure. Turn off all the lights in the room and leave the flashlight on, search the dark room with the flashlight, can you see any wild animals lurking in the woods? What can you hear? Can you hear the birds and that waterfall nearby? You can even make a pretend fire and toast some real marshmallows over it, yum!! If you are in a "House" you can invite some friends over (furry animals, dolls), put some pillows and blankets on the floor and have a slumber party!


Cut out the wheel from a cardboard box or use anything round you might find around the house. You can sit on a chair (wind the windows down, take down the roof - it's a convertible after all!) or "drive" around on foot. You can even have a race! Ask mum if she wants a ride!


This game is wonderful as it allows the child to swap places with the parent and become mummy or daddy for a short while. You can play it with a doll or mum and dad can play the role of the child for a change. Notice how your child behaves during this game, it will be fascinating to hear what they say and see what they do, how they discipline or reward you - it will be like looking at yourself in the mirror because they, of course, will be mimicking what you do and how you behave on a daily basis. Great for building self-esteem and awareness of self and others.


Anything in the house can become a boat or a ship with a little bit of imagination. You can turn two chairs pushed together, a couch or even a bed into a boat or a ship. Get all the passengers on board (do they all have their tickets?) and don't forget your supplies. Take some fishing rods and a bucket with you so you can do some fishing (make fishing rods out of thin tree branches and some rope or wool thread). If you want something different on your next trip the couch can become a train or even an airplane.

Doctor's Office

Those toy doctor's kits are excellent for pretend play but even if you don't have one you can collect some household objects to play this game. For example, a pen and pad to write out prescriptions, a plastic syringe to administer medicine or even give those ouchy shots, a small jar of jelly beans in case a patient has a headache or a belly ache and needs a pill, stretchy bandages to tape those serious wounds and band-aids for small cuts. In the absence of a toy stethoscope you can make one out of a simple empty toilet roll by cutting one open, rolling it into a thinner tube and gluing it back together - you can use it as a stethoscope or to check out the ears and the throat.

play money pretend play

You will need a shopping bag, a wallet with some coins in it, groceries, like a bag of pasta shapes, some apples and bananas, a can of peas and a box of cookies and a cash register made out of a shoe box or any other useful box you can find around the house. Take turns being a shopkeeper and a shopper. If you want your child to learn some math and counting along the way, you can make some pretend paper money out of paper, make sure the numbers on your pretend paper bills are large and clear. Make price labels on all the groceries in the shop and try to pay correct money for everything and give the right change. Make a shopping list so you can check things off the list when you put them in your shopping bag.


For this fun and exciting game you will need pots, pans and other cooking utensils. Other things that might help are grains like rice, lentils or dry beans, pasta shapes and even cereal like cheerios. Put the ingredients into the pot, add salt and pepper, stir. When the meal is ready, get some plates out and invite friends for dinner. Helping mum or dad with real cooking is also lots of fun, like beating the eggs for an omelette or tearing up lettuce for a salad.

toy kitchen set pretend play


Lots of old clothes is, of course, what's needed for this game - anything from skirts and shoes to hats and bags. But the best way to play is to pick a theme and dress accordingly. "Kings and Queens" is a fun theme to dress up for but you will need to make your own crowns and capes. The best thing about this game is that you can use as much dress jewellery as you have lying around the house.

Birthday Party

A pretend Birthday cake and party food can be made from play-doh and you can even use real candles with it. Invite all the stuffed furry animals and all the dolls that live at your house to your party, perhaps even some real friends can come if they are visiting at the time. To make the party more fun you can have a disco afterwards - turn some music on and dance together.

In the park

The park provides so many opportunities to play creatively and imaginatively. Use anything you might find - sticks, stones, dry leaves. You can make little houses out of everything you find, you can even play the shopping or the cooking game - sticks, dry leaves, grass and little flowers make perfect ingredients for a yummy soup.


There are as many of these games as there are objects around you and situations you encounter every day. Eventually, when your child knows that you are free and open to pretend and be anything they like they will suggest their own ideas, like pretending to be butterflies or horses, for example. Don't be shy, spread your wings and fly, stretch your legs and gallop away!

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