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Imaginative play: Thinking outside the box

By Jonna Laster

In the picture book, Nutshell Regatta, a young girl and her beloved grandmother spend an afternoon exploring a pond and the many creatures and plants living in and around the water. Through their interaction, and using imaginative play, their experience transcends: animals take on unique roles, the plants play their special parts and the little girl and her grandmother transport themselves to a whole other world where they share a unique adventure and create their own story. This is imaginative play.

Creating the scene
When we engage in imaginative play, we engage all of our senses. Observing a scene is very one-dimensional. Creating the scene, however, is multi-dimensional. All creative people and great problem solvers use imaginative play. At its core, imaginative play is “thinking outside the box.” 

There are those who might worry they are not creative or don’t know how to start. The great thing about imaginative play is there is no wrong way! Start with a simple plan.

Simply engage
Next time you take a walk with a child, try to engage with your surroundings.
• Collect pebbles or leaves. Think about how you could arrange them in a vase or picture frame.
• Take a walk with a child in silence. When you get back home, take turns sharing what you saw, smelled, heard, and felt.

The fun part is there is no wrong way to do this. Creativity really has no boundaries—you just need to start. In keeping with that, let children colour outside the lines. Encourage creativity and storytelling. Keep as many supplies around as you can manage, including empty boxes, old fabric, old costumes, catalogs, crayons, pencils, and paint. All of these types of items are a treasure trove for imaginative play. And remember, it’s the process of imaginative play that’s important rather than what is created! 

Imaginative play ideas:
• Have one person start a story. Then, each family member or friend adds the next sentence or two. Round and round the story goes, often ending up in very unexpected places. This is a great boost for memory skills, and a source of delightful silliness for everyone!
• Take out any board game. Collectively reinvent the rules. An example of this activity: a word tile game, like Scrabble, could expand to accept made-up words as long as a pronunciation and a definition is given and the word is used in a sentence.
• In this variation of charades, take out a stack of blank index cards. Each person draws or writes out instructions for whoever pulls one of their cards from a stack.
• Create a new and zany rule book for a familiar game—this works well with strategy board games.
• Flip the script. Rewrite or retell the endings of favourite shows or movies. To be able to deconstruct and reconstruct a familiar storyline is a prime example of imagination meeting critical thinking skills.

The most important rule of imaginative play is …. There really are NO RULES!

Nutshell Regatta is Jonna’s first children’s book written as a homage to her grandmother who introduced her to imaginative play that was fun and a great learning exercise.

Benefits of creative play:

1)Exploring and learning about other people’s perspectives.
2) Promoting physical development.
3) Encouraging language and social skills.
4) Helping with problem solving and self-regulation.
5) Providing a different opportunity to improve various cognitive skills.

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