The Need for Imaginative Play

The feet of a four-, five-, and seven-year-old pounded up the wooden staircase in anticipation of arriving at the playroom. My daughter has been to this room before. In the last two years, Thomas the Tank engines and tracks have been replaced with Star Wars posters and toys, a table full of LEGOs, a costume rack and accessories for boys and girls, and much more. Daegan and Casey both wanted to be Star Wars Jedi’s, while Sayre wanted to wear the costume of a princess superhero. Without complication or conflict, the three friends agreed to their roles (two chose to be “good guys”), and then they began playing. Each had a sword in hand and was ready to solve the problems of a galaxy far, far away.  

Teamwork and Problem-Solving

For today’s children, pretend play is necessary in developing a number of important social skills. With two and especially three children involved, they are able to practice sharing responsibilities and taking turns, creating dialogue and acting quickly when a problem in the story arises. As parents, we do want our children to experience those “What comes next?” moments in play. And, most importantly, to work together to solve problems as friends and playmates without relying on adults for guidance.

Fostering Imaginative Play

The season when children are considering who they want to be for one night is around the corner. How exciting it is to dress up as a book or movie character for everyone in the neighborhood to see. Trick-or-treating is not usually about originality, rather the chance to become the most popular heroes who save the day, such as Queen Elsa, Spiderman, or Ironman, for instance. Although expensive, great costumes are available in stores and on-line; however, the best costumes are ones that can be used for multiple purposes. Beyond one night of trick-or-treating, a simple mask, cape, sword, and loose-fitted, all-black, -brown, or -white tunic could encourage a child to portray any number of fascinating characters. While the day after Halloween is the time to find discounts ranging from 50 to 75 percent, there are also great alternatives to spending money.

Homemade Accessories

How many times have you said, “Why do I keep buying tiaras or swords, when they break so easily?” The answer becomes, “Why not get the kids together and create your own?”

  • Beautiful headdresses can be made quite simply. Cut off the bottom of a paper bag and roll the edge of the bag outward. Use a low-heat glue gun to connect the crown and then attach artificial flowers. Ribbon can be wound around for a nice decoration and also to ensure the headdress remains in place.
  • Pipe cleaners can look glamorous if made into a tiara. Whether with loops or pointed, the design is up to the wearer. Add a few plastic jewels to make her an honorary princess.
  • In making a durable, but safe, sword, parents will have to do much of the work. By cutting a pool noodle into the requested length and inserting a bamboo rod through the center, a child could wrap the sword and cardboard handle with duct tape (several layers will be needed).
  • For young Star Wars fans, create light sabers with a pool noodle. For the handle, wrap five inches on one end with duct tape, and use black tape for the two buttons and stripes.  

In addition, there are wonderful, simple patterns if you have the time and ability to sew. Imagine all the wonderful tunics and capes, headdresses and masks you can create for both boys and girls in an array of colors. In considering safety and a one-size-fits-all costume, Velcro would be a great alternative to tying a ribbon at the neck.


Around the age of seven, imaginative play is replaced with reading, structured activities and games with rules. Although it is a sad time to think of your child as moving beyond the power of make-believe, children will find alternative outlets through building and crafting with LEGOs, magnets, or LEGO magnets, acting or dancing, writing, or playing on a computer. But in the first seven years of life, at least, we can help our children aspire to dream, pretend, and solve problems through imaginative play.