School-age play: why it’s important for imaginative and creative development
Play fosters creativity and imagination in school-age children. When children develop their imaginations and creative skills through play, they can:
- express feelings, thoughts and ideas in verbal and non-verbal ways
- think about problems with more than one answer
- think about issues from many perspectives
- use materials and media to solve problems.
These are important skills for the school years and beyond.
What to expect as school-age children’s imaginations develop
By the time your child goes to school, they’ll probably:
- have a clearer understanding of what’s real and what’s pretend
- be able to plan new creative activities like drawing, painting, dance and music
- be able to tell you a made-up story
- start to grow out of fears at around 6 years of age – for example, fear of monsters, the dark and dogs.
Even though school-age children might be doing more structured activities and games, open-ended play is still important at this age. This type of play boosts your child’s creative development and teaches them how to experiment, think, learn and solve problems.
Play ideas and creative activities to encourage imagination in school-age children
Here are play ideas to stimulate your child’s imagination. It’s great if you can step back from play and let your child take the lead with these activities:
- Tell stories and read books. Encourage your child to come up with new endings to stories or tell you what might happen next.
- Play word games, including silly rhymes and riddles. This gets your child using their imagination to come up with answers.
- Make household chores fun by turning them into make-believe activities. Your child could be a waiter who helps to set the table. Or your child could pretend that they’re a chef and help you with some basic cooking.
- Fill a craft box with paints, pencils, glue, scrap paper and natural materials like leaves, stones and feathers. Your child can use these to create pictures, collages, puppets and more.
- Give your child props for pretend play. These can be old clothes, handbags and hats for dress-ups or even homemade puppets.
- Let your child try out different musical instruments, or listen to different types of music together.
- Help your child build a cubbyhouse with cardboard boxes or by draping a blanket over chairs.
Outdoor play can be a great way to stimulate the imagination. Here are ideas:
- Visit unusual places – for example, the bush, beach or the zoo. Play in different kinds of weather can be especially exciting.
- Let your child take risks with play, like climbing a tree, balancing on a ledge or running down a hill fast. This lets your child experience new sensations, explore new emotions and develop problem-solving skills.
- Go for a nature walk to look for interesting items. As you walk you could ask your child things like, ‘What type of animal do you think used to live in this shell?’
Screen time, digital technology use and imaginative play
It’s good to know that screen time and digital technology use can spark your child’s play and imagination.
For example, your child can develop creative and imaginative skills by making content like videos, animations or music. And sometimes your child can get new creative ideas for traditional play from screen use. For example, playing Minecraft might get your child interested in designing buildings with boxes, glue and paper.
Here are a few things you can do to help your child get the most out of screen time and digital technology use:
- Choose good-quality apps, games and other media.
- Share screen time and digital technology with your child.
- Help your child manage screen time and digital technology use.
And remember – healthy screen time and digital technology use is all about balance. It’s good for your child’s development to do plenty of different activities, including pretend and creative play, physical play, social play and reading, as well as digital play.
In general, the key events in development happen in a similar order, but the age they happen might vary for each child. But if you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s learning, wellbeing or development, it’s a good idea to talk with your child’s teacher or your GP.