The Importance of Imaginative Play and Role Play
Carmen Knight, M.A.T., Early Childhood and Special Education
Playtime has many benefits for children, but simply put, it helps with learning and development. One of the best things therapists can do is encourage their patients to participate in imaginative and role play with fun tools. For some children, play comes very naturally as they watch siblings and peers play. For other children, it may be a more difficult skill to learn. This is especially true for children with developmental delays or those on the Autism Spectrum. As Early Interventionists and Therapists, we have the task of teaching the importance and need for imaginative play.
Imaginative play is important for children because it develops many important skills. It allows children to communicate and build a vocabulary. It is also a great way to develop relationships with peers and family and become more social. It allows a child to engage in problem solving skills that are not always available in a structured environment. This is important as children learn to be more creative in their thinking. Play also increases physical activity and even helps children cope with stress.
For some children, it can be difficult to participate in imaginative play without consistent role modeling. I have found some great tools that will create interest and allow children to increase their development in this important area. SmileMakers offers two great dress up playsets that will encourage children to participate in imaginative play. The Pediatric Nurse Role Play Set and the Doctor Role Play Set not only allow a child to play the role of the nurse, doctor, or patient, it may also reduce anxiety the next time they take a trip to the doctor's office.
Using these play sets allows you, as the Early Interventionist or Therapist, to model the language of the profession and role play with a baby (part of the set) before your patient receives a turn to play. It allows the child the opportunity to hear the language and tone used to speak to a baby/child, the kindness you should show a baby/child, and how different instruments are used to check the baby's temperature or give the baby a shot. Your patient will begin to realize the role the healthcare professional plays in a visit to a medical office. Giving the child a turn to put on the lab coat and examine the patient allows them to bring this important role to life. As you assess their play, you will learn things about the child that will help you determine treatment. Maybe the language or body language they use could help determine what makes them anxious in certain situations. Maybe the way they play the role will help you determine their level of understanding of the role. They can play the part the way they would like and become more confident the next time they face a situation.
Playtime is a great way for Early Interventionists and Therapists to evaluate the needs of their patients. In particular, role playing can identify areas of developmental improvement, physical or social improvement, or just give a patient an outlet to express their emotions. The play sets mentioned in this article are fun ways to engage patients and are a great gift idea that could be used at home between sessions. SmileMakers has a wide variety of items that can assist with all of your imaginative play needs.