Pretend and imaginary play is a central part of development. It plays important roles from birth through adolescence! It allows children to communicate, explore their emotions and learn through action, creativity, and working together.

Research has demonstrated benefits of children’s engagement in pretend games/imaginary play from about 1 ½ through ages 7, though children don’t lose benefit after that! Despite proven benefits, children are getting less time to play each decade. It’s important for us to carve out this time for our children, and it doesn’t have to be long. We know there’s a lot that can be accomplished for younger children from just 5 minutes of play a day. However long, committing to turning off and disconnecting from screens and allowing the creative space to play is a great way to foster your child’s healthy emotional and cognitive development.

Particularly when we are experiencing more physical distancing and burnout, it can be tough to figure out when and how to foster imaginative play and connection. Pandemic burnout is real, so don’t be hard on yourself! Building connection with your child through play can help make everything easier. It increases their self esteem, models healthy relationships, forms respect within your relationships, increases compliance, and creates trust. All of these things can make the day-to-day better!

Here are some ideas to try for kids of all ages:

  • Cook with your child! Mix and match recipes, pretend you are running a restaurant, make “fancy” meals for one another.
  • Use the power of family game night. This can be a nice way to foster creative play for older kids who aren’t as able to jump right into a scenario – or for when you’re feeling out of ideas. Break out a board game, play a card game, make up a game of your own!
  • Take things outdoors! Look for magical creatures in the trees, create a fairy house and check back later, break out sidewalk chalk and draw creatures real and pretend, blow bubbles, jump in puddles. Ask a lot of open ended questions and see what your child’s midn does.
  • For littler people, use bath time as play time! Since it’s at the end of our day, bath time can become more of a chore or disconnection than active pretend play time. A couple of nights a week, commit to playing with your kid. Make a big bubble bath, pretend to be fish, grab the toys and pretend to help them learn to swim or take a bath.
  • Grab legos and blocks and see what your child wants to make. A spaceship? A castle? There’s so much pretend opportunity in constructive play.
  • Tell a story together! Part of imaginary play and connecting through play requires you to tap into the play part of yourself, and that can be hard when you are feeling exhausted or emotionally drained. Telling stories from your childhood or making one up that you tell over a few days or weeks can be a great way to connect with your own imagination! Plus, if your children are older, you can collaboratively tell the story together.

If you’d like more ideas, you can download our staying connected deck for other ideas! Most importantly, give yourself grace. It’s hard to parent, and extra hard during a pandemic. Each little step you take makes a difference and remember you are the exact right parent for your child. We promise.