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Just Imagine!

‚ÄčThis information is included in our Guide to Imaginative Play. Click here to see the rest of the guide.

Have you ever seen a child ignore a pile of expensive, store-bought toys and instead start playing with a simple cardboard box, pretending it's a car or a jet plane? Or how about a youngster who picks up a stick in the yard and suddenly wields it as a sword to fight off a band of pirates?

The thing that fuels this kind of fun, spontaneous play is imagination.

Children have the unique ability to create worlds of their own, where they are a hero or a princess or a cowboy or a ballerina. Imagination is the key to unlocking the door to these worlds, allowing kids to step out of reality and into fantasy.

But is all this play-acting and pretending healthy for children?  

Connie Schnoes, a parenting expert from Boys Town, says it's not only healthy, but absolutely necessary.

"It's a very important developmental milestone for kids to engage in imaginative play and creative play," she said. "If they aren't doing that, then that's a red flag developmentally, because you want them to have that skill."

Schnoes says besides making up their own play scenarios, kids can learn a lot from reading or having their parents read them fairy tales whose plots and characters make them think, ask questions and use their imaginations to become part of the story.

"One thing most of those stories have in common is some sort of adversity; life's not always going so great and there are challenges," she said. "And many times, the characters manage to overcome those issues and good wins over evil. So when kids are trying to emulate that or want to be like that, there are some very good lessons in there that parents can focus on with their children."

So the next time your child finds an old box, or picks up a stick, or wants to play dress-up, or pretends to be a robot, let his or her imagination run wild. It's a fun, natural and healthy way for kids to explore their world and others, and to learn and grow as they go. And if you're invited to join in the fun, don't hesitate for a minute. Follow your child and let his or her imagination take you wherever it leads!