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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 he sees in daily life, so he’ll enjoy feeding his teddy or pretending to wash up. Pretend play tends to include props such as toys, and generally he’ll be happy to play on his own. However, between the ages of three and four years, his imagination and sense of fun develop, heralding the beginning of imaginative play. At this stage, his play will become more complex and he will begin to include others in his make-believe games, giving roles to each child and planning stories and outcomes.

He 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 he and his 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:

  • he will develop his language skills in order to explain his ideas and act out different roles
  • he will achieve a greater understanding of the way things work, learn how to solve problems and improve his concentration
  • he will boost his 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. He has lots of images and thoughts in his head and is finding 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 he can begin to control his imagination.

Feed that imagination

Imagination is like a muscle – it needs to be used to develop. Here are 5 tips to encourage him:

  1. Provide props for imaginative play – you can use old clothes, blankets, cardboard boxes etc
  2. Make some space for him to create his imaginary worlds – leave his ‘castle’ up for a day or two
  3. Don’t worry if he repeats the same fantasy games over and over – this helps him to be confident about what he is doing
  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 his imagination. A trip to the zoo or seaside will inspire a new set of fantasy games and art projects!


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