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Imaginative Play
by Rebecca Garland

One of the absolute best forms of play for your developing baby is imaginary play. This means your child’s imagination is doing the work rather than the toy, and he is able to create his own scenes and scenarios rather than playing through ones that have been preordained for him by the design or function of a toy. Imaginative play takes many forms including dolls, dress up clothes, tea parties, construction equipment, and more.

Full imaginative play doesn’t develop until the preschool years, but you should set a foundation as early as possible by encouraging your child to use his mind for play rather than being entertained. Encourage imaginative play for your child in many ways.

Limit Screen Time
When a child is watching television or playing on the computer, he isn’t using his imagination. When he’s watching television, he is very likely using very little of his brain at all. Experts recommend children under two have no time in front of a screen and children two and older be limited to less than two hours a day. Turn off the television and turn on the imagination.

Buy the Basics
As much fun as they appear, toys that make sounds, flash lights, and talk actuallytake away the child’s role in play. A child should be making the sounds as the

truck zooms around the room and any toy that entertains a child with music and lights isn’t helping them to learn as effectively as one that makes them do the work.

Another problem with toys that have voices of any kind is they leave little room for expanded play. Watch your toddler or preschooler for a few minutes and you’ll see that the blocks become a mobile phone or camera and cars become spaceships. If the kitchen tells you what you’re cooking, how can your child pretend to be anything but what she’s told she is?

When possible, skip the bells and whistles and opt for the more basic toys. A good rule of thumb is to buy toys without batteries when possible and then sit down with your child to help him grow outside of the proverbial box.

Play Across Toys
Start by building towers with his blocks then bring over some cars and make the towers into tunnels. Let him make the noises and knock down the tower/tunnel as many times as he’d like. Help him come up with fun scenarios until he’s got the hang of it. “Oh no! That car doesn’t have a driver and is going to knock down the tower! CRASH!”

Other siblings can get in on the game by bringing the fire truck in to clean up the mess and perhaps even a Barbie doctor can make sure there were no wounded individuals. Let action figures take on new roles and encourage the use of mundane objects such as bowls, pots and pans in regular play.

Stimulate the Mind
Take every opportunity to help your child’s imagination grow. Point out interesting sights everywhere you go, and ask him plenty of questions – even he only has a few words and you have to do the answering. Come up with scenarios together and ask him what he thinks certain objects can be used for. For example, “Look at that funny looking vegetable. What does that look like?” or “What do you think we could use all these stickers for?” Pretty soon you’ll be amazed at what a free mind can create, and you’ll rarely hear of him ever being bored so long as he had his imagination for company.

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