Tamariki develop imagination in their second year. It allows them to develop social skills. Support it by providing them with props and allowing time to play with their peers.

In play, a child stands taller than himself.

Lev Vygotsky

Developing imagination | Tākai

Three and four-year-old tamariki build on this foundation because they have new and increased connections developing in their brain, especially in the vision centres. This helps them ‘see things in their mind’.

Thinking, noticing and understanding | Tākai

Benefits of imaginative play

Imaginative play is an important aspect of a child’s life during this stage. Through pretend play they can try out any number of roles and situations. They are experimenting with how other people act and feel and think. They can practise at being other people and work out how society works. Through pretend play they practise their social skills and maybe work out how to deal with different situations.

Tamariki will play alone using their imagination, talking to dolls and animal toys, as they’ve heard other people talk. They expand and experiment with their language and social skills.

They may also use pretend play to work out things that may be scary or a mystery to them. At one level they may act out being bigger and stronger and more able to cope with uncomfortable and frightening situations. It may also help them to work out how to cope with difficulties in life. Children are more likely to act out their fears through play than to talk about them. Play is a safe way for children to explore their feelings and fears – real or imagined. The use of imagination may help them get over the scary stuff.

A child’s imagination can sometimes be a matter for worry and concern. How whānau responds will depend on what the situation is. Whānau can ‘go along’ with the game, or comfort and reassure them.

When a tamaiti spends time in a fantasy world with imaginary friends, they are using creativity to experiment with different situations and feelings. A child’s imaginary friends can give whānau a glimpse into their inner thoughts and wishes.

Supporting their need for imaginative play

Whānau could provide their tamariki with lots of different props, such as:

  • clothes
  • furniture
  • costumes
  • household items
  • puppets and dolls
  • boxes
  • fabric
  • kitchenware
  • chalk, crayons, paints and pencils.

Places like early childhood centres may have a ‘family corner’, where children play together and practise their newfound skills on each other. Imaginative play with peers can help them develop problem-solving and self-regulation skills. Not everyone can get exactly what they want when they want it. They have to learn to manage disappointments if they want to keep playing.