The Importance of Imaginative Play

If you’ve got children, you’ll be well versed in the concept of role play and I’m sure you would have heard of Vygotsky’s theory (even if you haven’t heard of Vygotsky himself) that imaginative play is essential for children to develop; essentially they learn through play. Imaginative play helps children to make sense of the world around them, acquire language and learn thinking skills.

When taking part in role play, children have to have a dialogue with themselves or with others around them; they imitate people and things they hear around them in everyday life and essentially create a story and give ‘characters’ a voice. By immersing your child in the language surrounding everyday activities, they will pick up vocabulary and intonation and will be able to conceptualise this to help them understand the world around them. Mimicking adults is the most common sign we see of this happening.

Having recently been to the lovely Great Little Trading Company’s showroom, and listening to Annie and her husband Jamie talk about their belief in the importance of role play, I thought I’d share some of their thoughts.

What do you feel are the true benefits of imaginative play?


Through imaginative play children learn how to express their desires (‘but I wanted to be the Dragon’), negotiation tactics (‘let’s take turns’) and compromise. They learn how to handle conflict and how to settle arguments, how to work in a group and how to behave in social situations – and they learn them in a safe, supportive and risk-free environment, helping children to feel more confident and competent in the world around them.

How does it help children learn?

Through play children learn basic skills such as language, creativity, problem solving and self-control. They learn how to interact with others, how to express their needs, negotiate and compromise. They figure out complex relationships and learn how to cope with frustration, fear and anger. They explore, test, guess and discover, build foundations for later learning in science and mathematics. Manipulating objects, mark-making, running and jumping in muddy puddles all contribute to the development of fine and gross motor skills. Play is a fundamental part of a child’s cognitive, social, emotional and physical development. Through play, children learn how to learn.

What are some of the best methods of incorporating imaginative play in a child’s routine?

Role-play typically involves the child recalling a familiar situation, such as a shopping trip or visit to the doctor and acting it out. Children use their memory skills to recreate scenes they have witnessed in their daily routine, whether on their journey to school, in the supermarket or at the doctors. Guide them in practicing solving problems that may be part of those scenarios ‘the time mummy forgot her purse at the check-out’ or ‘when the doctor put the bandage on my leg’. Role play promotes verbal communication as children copy words they have heard others saying, ‘that’ll be twelve pounds please’, ‘nice cup of tea?’ and requires the child to develop listening skills and to respond in an appropriate manner.

What’s your favourite tool you used to aid imaginative play?

The best role-play toys are accessible so the child can spontaneously decide when and how to play. This means toys need to be left out, in the home, where children can easily reach them. At Great Little Trading Co, we believe that the best role-play toys have multiple uses and can be used by a child on their own or with friends. They should be robust enough to last for years, sturdy to withstand extended bouts of play with friends and siblings and good looking enough to have on permanent display in your home.

Play shops are one of our favourites as they incorporate so many elements of learning through play. With pretend food, tills and money, they fascinate children and provide multiple role-play opportunities as children pretend to be customers or shop owners. Handling play money can also develop numerical skills. Turn GLTC’s Play Shop around and it becomes a theatre with added role-play value.

We love a play shop in our house too – we have quite a large shop which has often also been used as a kitchen, cafe, bakery, jewellery shop, classroom as well as a hide/den. We are yet to try it out as a theatre but that sounds like a wonderful idea.

The children love playing shopkeeper, teacher and, well any adult figure actually; it’s their opportunity to explore their surroundings. They will often use the shop as a base to support other play, like buying the food to have a picnic or taking the register of the class before coming out of the shop and ‘doing learning time’.

I often listen to them playing and will hear myself in what they say – this, for me, really highlights the importance of talking and language. Even if you are going to do the food shop or pick up some dry cleaning, having that social interaction is key to helping your child learn. Imitation plays such an integral part of imaginative play that you should use always value those ‘mundane errands’ as much as the exciting trips to the zoo as your children learn just as much from these interactions.

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