How to Encourage Imaginative Play in Children and Grandchildren

image of two toddlers playign with a bear soft toy

Toys that develop social skills and encourage imagination are fun for children and essential for their personal development and growth. However, as a growing number of children are now being faced with smartphones and tablets daily, it’s more important now than ever to try and engage your children in imaginative play. 

In this guide, we’ll discuss how you can encourage imaginative play in your children and grandchildren so they can fully explore all their interests. From playing with dolls prams to dancing with friends, there are lots of things to do!

What is imaginative play?

Imaginative play (or pretend play) is when children assume roles while playing. At any time while playing, a child could adopt the part of somebody they’ve seen on TV, in a movie or in real life. They could be spacemen, doctors, nurses, tennis players, chefs, or scientists.

Children will act just like they’re the characters (or at least what they’ve observed of those roles) and try to mimic the emotions they believe their character would be going through. One moment, your child could be running their own restaurant and the next issuing a red card on the football field. But imaginative play actually involves even more than standard roleplay.

Through imaginative play, your child gets the chance to learn valuable life skills from sharing with other kids, cooperating, problem-solving, communicating and even simply dressing. Your child will be able to build on fundamental and essential skills that will aid them in their formative years.

What are the benefits of imaginative play?

There are so many benefits of imaginative play that are critical for childhood development. Some benefits of imaginative play include:

  • Developing emotional and social skills
  • Encouraging creativity
  • Assisting with real-life understanding 
  • Developing language and communication skills
  • Helping with relationship building

For more information, read our guide on the benefits of imaginative play.

How to encourage imaginative play

Letting your child’s imagination run wild can help you hone in on where their interests lie and encourage them to pursue certain hobbies they might thrive in. 

The following are a few steps you can take to help your child express themselves:

1 – Participate in play

The best way to encourage imaginative play is to actively participate in it by engaging in fun conversations with your child’s imaginary character. While you talk with your child’s adopted character, teach them things relevant to the scenario you’re role-playing with them.

Have fun by putting your real-life stresses aside and taking a little time to use your imagination while encouraging your child to use theirs.

2 – Encourage exploration

By taking part in your child’s imaginative play, you’re encouraging social exploration and encouraging their interest in trying out various social roles and exploring social situations.

When your child reaches their teenage years, you’ll want to encourage them to excel in schoolwork and extra-curricular activities. By engaging in pretend play in their formative years, you can help inform your child about what activities would suit them. The more you encourage imaginative play early on, the more your child’s brain will develop and be ready for later accomplishment and success.

3 – Introduce toys

Toys are essential to child development, and suitable ones promote imaginative play. Introducing dress-up clothes, action figures, play food like a pretend tea party, dolls and dolls prams, or toy vehicles will encourage your child’s development. The more ideas a parent or grandparent provides, the faster children learn!

Even inexpensive props introduced into your child’s imaginary world encourage pretend play. For example, you could use toilet paper rolls as a makeshift toy phone system to encourage your child to talk and develop their communication or make a fort out of couch cushions and pillows to assist with fine motor skills.

Other household items you can use as children’s play toys include:

  • A cardboard box could make a great house, fort, factory, car, sledge or spaceship
  • An orange or red blanket or quilt makes a magnificent pool of lava or fire that needs extinguishing
  • Empty tupperware and plastic yoghurt containers make excellent props when playing in the “kitchen”
  • Use a dolls pram to place your child’s dolls in if you have one
  • Old shoeboxes with slits cut in the sides make excellent postboxes
  • Get creative and use old clothes to make costumes

Using your child’s existing toys and a range of household implements can make for hours of fantasy fun for your child and their siblings or friends.

4 – Watch some television

This suggestion may seem a little out of left-field but as much as TV has its detractors, it does serve a purpose in child development. Using television as a prop to aid in pretend play can assist with building your child’s imagination and creativity. 

A little television for a young child encourages pretend play but don’t overdo it. Get out the stuffed animals after watching TV and encourage your child to re-enact some of what they’ve just watched. 


At what age should I start to encourage imaginative play with my child?

As soon as possible! Babies start adopting social roles with loved ones almost immediately because it is all they see and hear. So it’s never too early to start encouraging imaginative motivation. Replying to an infant’s sounds with your own or singing to your newborn in their cot can both start the creative process.

How can I encourage imaginative play with my toddler?

By the time your child reaches two years old, their receptiveness and enjoyment of imaginative play will start to grow, and this is when your encouragement begins in earnest. Offer ideas like ways of dressing up, holding a party with stuffed toys or interacting with finger puppets. Guide your child initially but then allow them to run with the ideas.

When should I stop imaginative play with my child?

Although there’s no definitive answer to this question, a parent’s role in a child’s imaginative play will decrease once the child starts to develop bonds with other children of similar ages and leave you out of the “cops and robbers” type games they play together.

Typically when a child reaches school-going age, friends start assuming the role you once had. Then, by age 10 to 12, extracurricular activities like sports and school social clubs start replacing pretend play scenarios.

Help encourage imaginative play with Play Like Mum

At Play Like Mum, we offer a range of dolls pram sets and dolls pram accessories that can be useful if your child wishes to play pretend as a parent. 

From looking after our Susie interactive doll in her dolls high chair or using a pushchair to carry cuddly toys, check out our other guides to learn more about when imaginative play starts for children and why children’s play is important so your child can have some playdate fun!