Creative play is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons that children need to have unstructured time built into their days. I would actually argue that everyone should have unstructured time built into their days, but children need it the most! When my kids (aged 7, 5, 4, and 1) are left to devise their own form of entertainment, they gain several important lifelong skills:
The ability to self-entertain
I love modern technology, but consistently turning to media for entertainment can lead to an incredible dependence on the internet and technology! I think that all of us – children as well as adults – benefit from knowing how to create our own entertainment. Have a bored child? Give them the choice of solving the problem on their own, or doing extra chores. If they pick the extra chores, hooray! Your house is cleaner! If they decide to entertain themselves, they are on the path of discovery for hobbies that may help them de-stress and process difficult days for life.
It’s fine to set limits to how they self-entertain. My kids have to clean up the toys they dump out, and if there is any fighting we switch to chores. Sometimes they are given the choice of extra chores or playing outside.
The development of language arts skills
Children learn a lot about plot and character development by creating their own imaginative plots! Over time, I have seen my kids’ games become increasingly complex. I also see the same characters and games appearing over and over again, providing the opportunity to revise a plot and refine characters.
I often see my kids processing things that have been on their minds while they play. They spend a lot of time teaching their toys how to behave appropriately, and enjoy testing boundaries within an imaginary world, where consequences are equally imaginary! I often get valuable insights and parenting ideas by listening in on the ways they “parent” their toys!
Social skills practice
Pretend play is a wonderful low-stress space for practicing social skills! Besides having characters test social boundaries, kids learn a lot about leadership and team work when they engage in pretend play together. The most long-lasting pretend games in my home are the ones where each child has an important role to play. I also find that my kids occupy different roles depending on the game they are playing and which combination of children are playing. Sometimes even one-year-old Anna gets to be in charge – and she loves that!
Creative pretend play doesn’t always look like much. The short clip below isn’t fancy, but it shows a few ways in which children can explore emotions and even bring together seemingly incongruous characters and worlds (Star Wars meets gigantic purple elephant!) into a play experience that builds relationships and keeps them learning!
What pretend play scenarios do your kids enjoy? How do you promote creative play in your home?