The importance of imaginative play!

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Today I will be superman! – Why imaginative play is important.

What is imaginative  play?

You just need to watch your children for a while to understand what imaginative play is. It’s incredible observing children play. Our goal with our products and the reason we add invisible messages is we want to try and encourage children to create and play without fear or inhibition and imaginative play is all about allowing children to start that journey.

As adults we quickly forget what it was like to be a child, cast your mind back to playing football and when you scored a goal pretending you were Ronaldo or Messi, or you were mesmerised by a singer and wanted to sing like her, dress  like her and have the same hairstyle and you occasionally found yourself in front of the mirror pretending to be her!

I remember watching the film Nim’s Island with Harry and then for days after I imagined I was on my own tropical beach swimming in the warm sea, talking to wild animals ahh, if only!

According to Play England, play is: ‘what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas and interests, in their own way, and for their own reasons.’

When Harry was growing up  we were always involved in sword fighting, super heroes, building  dens, the ability of children to create new worlds and inhabit them with all manner of creatures is incredible.  As recent evidence also shows don’t forget the benefits of muddy play too. The message is clear, children need to play and we have some great ideas for outdoor activities!

Ready to fight!

Why is imaginative play so important for children?

Some Evidence:

In my research from a Telegraph article we learn that, in a 2013 study on “Pretend and Physical Play”, psychologists Eric Lindsay and Malinda Colwell observed that children who engage in imaginative play express more emotional engagement, thoughtfulness and understanding, and less negative emotional expression such as selfishness and anger, and score higher on tests of emotional regulation and understanding.

According to child psychologist Sally Goddard Blythe, director of The Institute for Neuro-Physiological Psychology and author of The Genius of Natural Childhood: Secrets of Thriving Children, even in our own age, fairy tales still have a lot to teach children about life, and indeed give us key imaginary experiences that shape us throughout our lives.

“Fairy tales are important not because they show children how life is, but because they give form to deep fears and dreams about life through fantasy,” Goddard Blythe says. Please do read this article its really fascinating and provide much food for thought.

Your own eyes and intuition:

As a former teacher and a parent I have watched children at school play so many times. Its fascinating as you watch them decide  what they will play, who will they become, what scenario will they be involved in, what situation will develop, will they be a hero or the villain. Sometimes the discussions can go on much longer than the play ever will as the children fall out about who is who and what will happen.   

Imaginative play is great for:


Children using their imagination to play is all about creativity , let your child create, dream, without boundaries. It’s the one area of a child’s life  that we can’t create some rules for (yeahh), however with guidance we can encourage them to explore this aspect of their character.This is why I love  second hand shops or charity shop. Go and have an explore and see what cheap dressing up clothes or props you can buy and then have a day making up your own West End production. What about the mud side story (dreadful sense of humour) 

There are many resources out there to encourage imaginative play  and role play, grab some costumes, make a crown establish a throne! What about a turning  toilet rolls into swords or a telescope in which you can explore space and discover new planets. Read our mud kitchen accessories post for even more fun ideas!

Thinking, learning, problem solving: 

Free play, unstructured play when in motion is amazing. As an ex teacher I’m so aware that when kids are at school everything is structured, from the first bell in the morning , to each lesson, to the uniform, to the style of hair, to shoes and the list goes on and on. Is this good I don’t know, part of me screams nooooo. Period 5 at the end of a school day trying to teach History, you would see the kids losing the ‘will’ to live, they would be sitting there waiting for the bell to ring , then freedom!  It sometimes feels that once our kids get to school age we do our best to stifle their creativity, or maybe I was just a bad teacher !

When we planned role play activities at school you would often see a different side to  children. Role play was like a release for some children. Suddenly they were allowed to express their learning in a different way that perhaps suited them more. I have fond memories  encouraging children to be soldiers in the Terracotta army, or archaeologists exploring the hidden depths of an Egyptian Pyramid. 

As parents we struggle with school and how children are educated in the UK, we don’t have the answers but having taught for many years, I’m convinced, a life of bells and long lessons, regimented hair cuts, sitting at a desk for hours, just isn’t the right way forward, surely there must be other alternatives? Perhaps we have to reverse the process and start at the end thinking about the types of young people we want to create and then base our children’s learning around that. I want Harry to be able to think outside the box , to become everything that he can, to be able to create and dream without fear or inhibition as well as eat lots of vegetables, I’m not asking for much then!!!  

Communication and Working together:

Imaginative play and role play usually involves some type of team work so it’s a great tool for developing these skills. Learning how to decide who is doing what role , what props are needed and what to do when more than one child wants the same role?

Fun, laughter & play: 

This is the best bit of it all. Once you have put on those costumes, written the play, created some fairies,  sharpened the swords, packed your archaeology tool kit ready for that big dig, or set up a shop selling nothing but sweets, then its about having fun, letting the children dictate where the story goes!  The good news is we can all join in to (if the kids allow, remember their in charge)  

Imaginative play , Role play and mud kitchens

There are all kinds of wooden toys out there to encourage role play. We want our mud kitchens and other products to facilitate role play and imaginative play from designing potions, to creating menus for Kings & Queens, to investigating the worms that live in your garden. We have designed one of our mud kitchens to have shop doors so when children are playing they can on one side create a shop with produce and the odd mud pie and even begin buying and selling , watch out Richard Branson ! Mud kitchens in general are brilliant for facilitating role play.

kids mud kitchen

You don’t need to buy a mud kitchen!

 As we have mentioned before you certainly don’t need to spend any money to encourage your children to conjure up some great imaginative play ideas, you can simply use any props, clothes you have at home and off you go. Play, thankfully is fun and free.

In Exeter we have the amazing Royal Albert memorial Museum ,they have a dressing up box which has among other things soldiers helmets, uniforms and other fun items. Its great watching children make a bee line for the clothes and props and suddenly they are transformed into a Roman Centurion in dusty, warm Rome.  

Royal Albert Memorial Museum

In conclusion: 

In  my research for this post, the one thought that kept popping up in my mind was ‘wow’ the imagination is an incredibly powerful place that needs nurturing and looking after especially in our children. From the Telegraph newspaper article on the 2013 study on “Pretend and Physical Play”, by psychologists (I mention it above) Eric Lindsay and Malinda Colwell , they say “that films and even video games can actually become fuel for children’s imaginative play. Kids can take on story-lines they’ve been exposed to and extend them into a more elaborate and extended narrative, processing social situations and problems through the fantasy space of the story.” So incredibly powerful, while its fantastic when our children are creating dens and playing Kings, Queens and superheroes, we need to be very careful what we allow them to watch, their imaginations are to be encouraged to run wild but also protected!

Last thought, does your child ask for good thoughts before they go to sleep, Harry does, interesting isn’t it ?

More to explore


Mud Kitchen Recipes

Here it is, our perfect mud kitchen recipes. We have a starter, a main course and a pudding. Lets cook ! Enjoy the finest mud kitchen food in the world. A Michelin star awaits!