Developing the Imagination of Your Preschooler

by Kylee Truman on April 3, 2017

Developing imagination in your preschooler

In a 1929 interview with The Saturday Evening Post, Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

According to several scientific studies, imagination is a crucial ingredient in proper child development. How can you foster imagination in your child? How can you help develop the imagination of your preschooler?

Why Imagination Matters

Research has established a firm link between imitation and child development. Here are just a few of the developmental benefits of imaginative play.1

  • It helps develop a child's “awareness that one's thoughts may differ from those of other persons" (Jenkins & Astington, 2000; Leslie, 1987; Singer & Singer, 1990; Singer & Singer, 2005).
  • ”Make-believe games are forerunners of the important capacity for forms of self-regulation including reduced aggression, delay of gratification, civility, and empathy” (Research reviewed by Berk, Mann & Ogan, 2006, and Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff, Berk, & Singer, 2009).
  • “Early pretend play may [enhance] the child's capacity for cognitive flexibility and, ultimately, creativity” (Russ, 2004; Singer & Singer, 2005).

How to Foster Imagination

Research suggests a few methods.2

1. Conversation

Parents should "talk to their children, regularly explaining features about nature and social issues...read or tell stories at bedtime" (Shmukler 1981; Singer & Singer 2005).

2. Encouragement

Schools should encourage imaginative games and activities, whether in the classroom or more informal environments like recess (Ashiabi , 2007; Singer and Lythcott 2004).

3. Complexity

Authorities should encourage complex imaginative games, including preparatory planning.

4. Flexibility

Teachers should "lead rule-switching games in which regular movement patterns shift often, requiring flexibility of attention."

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Some Final Suggestions

Here are just a few practical play ideas for encouraging imagination.

1. Role Play

Encourage role play activities from different times and locations. Help your child transport to a medieval castle, the Wild West, a grocery story, or a doctor's office.

A few simple homemade decorations and clothing items will be just enough to prompt your child's imaginative thinking. Soon you'll be checking out using their homemade grocery conveyer belt.

2. Story Telling

Ask your child to give you a few details: a place, a person, and an activity. Make up a silly story using these details. Then reverse the roles. Let them fall in love with telling stories.

3. Dinner Parties

Gather your child's favorite stuffed animals and toys for a tea or dinner party. Come up with menus together and pretend make the food together.

4. Performances

Puppet shows or musical/theatrical performances are great ways to encourage imagination. Make pretend instruments together or write and memorize a short play.

5. Drawing and reading

Read a new story to your child and ask him to draw a picture related to the story while you read. It's best if your child doesn't see the illustrations. When you're done, show him how the illustrator imagined the story.

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  1. The following points and quotations are from Physchology Today's article, “The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development.” See also, “The Importance of Imagination.” ↩︎

  2. ibid ↩︎