It’s here: The age of imagination. My twin daughters have been pretending and imagining for a while, probably since about their third birthday, but now at 3.5 years old, they are in a full-blown imagination stage. And I love and hate it.
The Importance of Pretend Play
I have read many articles and books boasting the benefits of imaginary play. Studies have shown that kids who play pretend do better socially and academically. They gain emotional strength as well. Children who are given more time to independently play, pretend, and imagine turn into smarter, friendlier, and more emphatic children and adults.
Not only is pretend play great for children, it can be great for adults and parents: you don’t need to entertain you children all day long! If fingers can become a telephone, and a foot a tiger, then there isn’t a need to (necessarily) come up with things for your children to do all day. When a child is at the age of imagination, they can entertain themselves. You don’t need to constantly entertain them with movies, tablets, games, or toys. A child with a good imagination can turn any ‘boredom’ into play.
One of the greatest benefits of having twins is that they always have a playmate. I absolutely love that my girls have each other. They play together all day long, every single day. There is no need to invite a friend over, although they both beg for someone to come over each day anyway. Since they are the same age, their interests are very similar as is their frame of reference, their vocabulary, their understanding, and their communication. As twins, they are on the same imaginative playing field.
What my daughters’ pretend play looks like
I love hearing my daughters play pretend. I love hearing the conversations their toys have. I love hearing them work through discipline, trials, meanness, love, affection, potty training, mothering, and aggression through their toys, even though they sometimes use certain phrases and words that I often use, but don’t want them to (see THIS post about that).
While I can’t capture all the awesomeness that is the age of imagination, I would like to share some of the ways my children pretend and play.
My daughters love to make, serve, cut, cook, bake, and prepare food. They often pull out our (real) pots, pans, baking sheets, and cooking utensils from the kitchen and whip up some cookies, pasta, pizza, or treats. They love then feeding them to me (even though technically there is nothing ‘there’), telling me whether it is hot (and I should blow on it), cold, yucky (and I should spit it out), or yummy.
Alison really loves giving gifts. She comes over to me, knocks on air (saying “Knock! Knock!”), waits for me to open the (air) door, and then hands me a box of “goodies.” She often asks me to unwrap it first. She’ll proudly tell me what she is gifting me, as I often ask (since I’m never sure if it is indeed what it appears to be or not), and ask me to take it and keep it. She often gives me Birthday cakes, complete with candles that must be blown out.
Giving shots, being sick, and getting hurt are all common for my child’s animals and dolls. They often need Band-Aids, cry after getting shots (and my girls love giving Mom and Dad shots, in order to see our sad, cry faces), and need to take their medicine.
If my daughters need to do it, then so do their ‘babies. My daughters frequently play the role of Mommy, making their toys, animals, and dolls take naps, sit in time outs, go to bed, pick up their toys, clean up their messes, and follow the rules. This is one of the things that is said to be especially beneficial for children to role-play and pretend. And my daughters love being the bossy Mommy. They yell at their dolls that they can’t do this or that or that they were naughty, or that they need to get out and leave them alone. My daughters also give their babies and animals lots of hugs, kisses, snuggles, and sometimes even breast-milk, snuggling them up to their chests. It’s very interesting listening to the things they say as they play Mommy.
The other day my girls were even doing a bit of shopping. I heard them say things like “It’s not on sale; we can’t get it.” And then I heard this exchange:
Lisa: “How much is this? Two bucks?”
Alison, “No, it’s three.”
Lisa “Three bucks? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Apparently, my frugal ways are already affecting their play! But, here again, they are pretending to be adults, buying the things they want.
I don’t know why, but my children are very into pretending that someone died. Thankfully, all someone needs to come back to life after dying is a magic kiss! They like to pretend the floor is full of alligators, fire, sharks, or other various monsters and creatures and that you will kill if you don’t get off the floor quick!
Sometimes my daughters also pretend that they are prophets of God. They get up on their pulpits (aka our stools) and start preaching about the Spirit of God. Sometimes they even practice saying prayers in their pretend play time, talk about Jesus Christ, and how he died on a cross because of bad people (maybe this is where the obsession with death comes from), and pretend to read scriptures.
While my children of course still want to and need to play with Mommy and Daddy, and we happily oblige, it is harder for us adults to imagine and play to the level that our children can. We are often very rusty in our imaginative skills. I worry that when Mommy is pretending, I’m limiting their play, that I’m guiding it in directions that are too safe and too familiar. I worry that I am actually hindering their true imagination. I have found that my best tactic is to go off what they have already started and ask what things are, what names are, and how objects are feeling or what they are doing. It’s also why I try to stay very hands-off when my kids are drawing or coloring. I don’t tell them what colors to use, to stay in the lines, or what to draw. I let them do it themselves. One of my favorite ways to pretend with my children though is by showing extreme emotions. I play up the dramatics, and my kids love it!
Few Toys Needed
Time and time again I have been amazed to see how kids truly don’t need toys. Children can pretend anything is something else. I do not have to spend money on awesome toys for my children, because, as dumb as it often sounds, a box will do just fine and they come free from the goods I buy. I do not need to provide my kids with every newest toy or gadget! It is a waste of my money and sometimes a hindrance to their imaginative play. It is for this reason that my husband and I greatly limit the toys our children have and play with. We are very selective, and even periodically get rid of toys our children do not play with or no longer need.
I once complained that our kids lack serious cool toys. But I think that was mostly due to the comparison rut I was in at the time. Honestly, our children don’t have a lot of toys. Most of their toys fill up a single giant blue tub in their bedroom. My husband and I like to generally give non-toy items to our children, things like books, puzzles, crayons and markers, board games, and movies. Part of the reasoning is we have a small apartment and physically don’t have the space for larger toys. Another part is that some kids toys come with tiny little parts that will end up all over our home, which we don’t want to have to clean it up each day, nor have our baby put those small pieces in his mouth. And the final part is that they aren’t needed. We’d rather spend our money on things that are needed.
The Downside of Pretend Play and the Age of Imagination
While I generally love my children’s growing, wild imaginations, I wish sometimes it was easier to turn off! When everything can become something else, it can be hard to get my children back to reality, back to the things I am telling them. When their food, bowls, cups, chairs, body parts, and spoons become play things, meal times can become a bit crazy, last much longer than is necessary, and cause unnecessary messes and fights. When my daughters are so distracted by their pretend play that all they hear and see is their own little worlds, it means Mommy and Daddy sometimes have to repeat themselves multiple times or yell to get their attentions. It is hard to get them settled at bed time to read scriptures and say prayers.
It also means that sometimes I hear “Mommy” all day long but no one is actually talking to me; their dolls are talking to their Mommy’s. It can be slightly disconcerting. Are they calling for me?
But, honestly, I am thrilled by my children at this age! I am so happy to see them explore and to experiment and to have fun all on their own. I’m grateful for their ability to entertain themselves and each other. I think imagination is extremely valuable. My husband and I want to keep fostering a home where our children can be creative, where they are free to play, free to imagine, free to pretend. We only hope that it will pay off in the future as they turn into amazing individuals.