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preschooler playing with dinosaurs

Once your child hits three, his imagination really explodes! We look at the magical world of fun and fantasy

Until now, your child’s playtime has probably been inspired by the things they sees in daily life, so they’ll enjoy feeding their teddy or pretending to wash up. Pretend play tends to include props such as toys, and generally your little one will be happy to play on their own. However, between the ages of three and four years, their imagination and sense of fun develop, heralding the beginning of imaginative play. At this stage, their play will become more complex and they will begin to include others in their make-believe games, giving roles to each child and planning stories and outcomes.

Your little one will also start to use familiar objects in novel ways, turning a cardboard box into a car, boat or house, for example. This kind of imaginative play shows that your child now understands that they and their friends are acting out scenarios that can be adapted depending on the game they are playing. Up to two thirds of children create an imaginary friend at some point during early childhood – this is fine too!

The benefits of imaginary play

Imaginary play isn’t just great fun – it also helps encourage other skills:

  • It will develop their language skills in order to explain their ideas and act out different roles
  • They will achieve a greater understanding of the way things work, learn how to solve problems and improve their concentration
  • It will boost their confidence and learn to understand the thoughts and feelings of other kids.

Imagination overload

Having a vivid imagination can also have its downsides! During this period your child may start to have nightmares or become convinced that there is a monster living under the bed or in the wardrobe. They have lots of images and thoughts in their heads and they may find it hard to control them all.

You might also notice an increase in telling tales at this age – this is generally not a deliberate intention to deceive you, but the result of wishful thinking and fantasy. It’s important to help your child understand the difference between real and pretend and also truth and lies so that they can begin to control their imagination.

Feed that imagination

Imagination is like a muscle – it needs to be used to develop. Here are five tips to encourage your child:

  1. Provide props for imaginative play – you can use old clothes, blankets, cardboard boxes etc.
  2. Make some space for your little one to create their imaginary worlds – leave their ‘castle’ up for a day or two
  3. Don’t worry if they repeats the same fantasy games over and over – this helps them to be confident
  4. Remember that imaginative play also includes drawing, painting and making weird and wonderful creations out of egg boxes and yoghurt pots
  5. Visit new places to trigger your child’s imagination. A trip to the zoo or seaside will inspire a new set of fantasy games and art projects!
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