While enjoying a cuppa in bed one morning, the hubby and I were suddenly drawn to bizarre yelping and yowling sounds coming from downstairs.
The children we thought, as most mornings during lockdown, were watching TV but it became pretty obvious that they weren't and they were in fact playing 'doggies!'
Imaginary play has now become the new 'norm' in our house in the mornings, replacing the TV, something that I could never have imagined a few months ago.
Being able to pick up an item and turn it into something else can be magical. The other day Leo used a stick he found in the woods as a wand to make the Coronavirus disappear, he then turned himself into a 'Coronavirus Warrior'. If only it was that easy eh? He felt empowered to make a difference from learning about the world around him though and that was pretty special. It is, however, not lost on me that his ability to be able to do that is because of the Coronavirus giving him much more time to play imaginatively alongside his big sister who he is learning so much from.
If they are not playing doggies or cats then they are playing schools, with Ella as the teacher or they are playing doctors or hair salons with Ella's hair accessories and their cuddly toys.
Outside, they play super heroes rushing to the rescue on scooters or they pretend to be cafe owners and mix 'smoothies' with chalk and water. All these role playing scenarios have stemmed from their life experiences and from absorbing the world around them. They are changing and pushing the boundaries of what happens in the security of their own minds.
Ella and Leo have always been good at self directed play, largely due to the fact that we have encouraged them to be. Not only to give us parents a break from time to time but because playing imaginatively is a really important part of child development.
It helps children to understand who they are and explore their emotions and experiences in a safe environment. It is also a great way to encourage their speech, language and social skills.
Think of imagination as a muscle: if it is not exercised properly it will waste away. When children are engaging in passive activities, like watching TV, they are taking in other people's ideas instead of coming up with their own. Now, I am definitely not saying your children shouldn't watch TV as it does have it's uses but do think about how much time they spend watching it and how they could go and freely play instead to combat their boredom. This will not only enable them to use their problem solving skills but it will help to inspire their imaginations.
Playing independently however isn't the only way to give our children's imaginations a boost.
Reading every day also plays a big part in exercising the imagination muscle.
Since both Ella and Leo were small babies we have always read to them, particularly at bedtime and although Ella is now a pretty competent reader herself, we still read chapter books and go on a wonderful journey into our imaginations together.
The more you read to your child or they read independently, the more they can build up and expand their knowledge. The muscle strengthens as they manipulate the words that are describing a certain image in their minds. They are able to learn about new concepts and behaviours and experience new things that they my not encounter in their own lives.
Giving opportunities for your child to create art is another great way to strengthen the muscle. It doesn't have to be much, just pencils or pens and a pad of paper will do.
Being at home so much, Ella and Leo have had lots more time for getting creative. Leo, who is three, is constantly drawing us pictures now and the other week drew a picture of a rainbow with a face, arms and legs and explained it was 'Super Rainbow' Making the sky bright! He had used what he has seen on our daily walks for inspiration and then used his imagination to create a character.
Saving kitchen roll tubes, egg boxes, tubs and yoghurt pots or other recycling items and materials also gives children a way to use their imagination by junk modelling. Letting them be in control of what they are creating allows them to use their own vision of how it should be, in their own unique way so stand back and supervise but don't interfere unless you need to for safety.
Asking your child thought provoking and open ended questions is a great way to tap into your child's imagination too and let them share their own ideas. So questions such as "what do you think would happen if....?" and "what other ways could we do this?" are great.
Leo has started sharing with us some of the things he dreams about which is pretty hilarious sometimes (falling down the toilet!) and the other day he told us about the Peppa Pig ice creams in Grandmas's freezer being real, with real eyes that were moving! It made us laugh but what was really lovely was seeing Ella question him for the finer details. He clearly hadn't dreamed about them but he thought and answered with how he imagined it would have happened.
Having an imagination gives children a freedom that nobody can strip them of and maybe one day will make their dreams become a reality and enable them to actually change the world.