I think the benefits of making believe are tremendous, and children need free time to explore the world and imaginatively play. I grew up in the country at a time when imaginative play often lead to valuable life lessons. Many of which I would prefer my kids to learn in another, less precarious way. None the less, the values and character strengths that are gained by unrestricted learning (in a relatively controlled enviroment) are truly healthful.
Imaginative play allows children to alter reality. They can experiment and make the rules; or visit and dwell within a new sensibility. Their minds retain an openness to possibilities. They get to expand the walls of what what they are capable of doing, or becoming. We can help children counteract gender, racial, and cultural stereotypes by encouraging them to imaginatively be what or whoever they wish. Research shows imaginative play helps in developing empathy.
Imaginative play is also important to children's emotional health and development; by allowing children to "play with" and better understand or resolve situations that have occurred in real life. This helps children to develop creativity and pose “what if” questions for problem solving. They can even find answers to questions they hadn’t asked, as they gain glimpses into themselves.
Listening to, or closely observing children's interests allows us to provide them with toys or other opportunities in these areas. Kids will also use household objects for whatever they want them to be. Gathering a supply of gadgets, old clothes and hats for dress-up, and materials like blankets and boxes, helps kids imaginative play grow by leaps and bounds.
A good variety of play materials encourages many aspects of mental and physical development as well. For example:
Dolls, stuffed animals, and action figures offer lots of ways to draw out imaginary fun. Adventures can be confined to a room or taken to the great outdoors. And don’t forget trucks and sand piles. A bag of sand can be picked up at the hardware store for a couple of bucks and unceremoniously dumped anywhere.
Markers, scissors, and clay, will help a child to develop fine motor skills, preparing them for school printing and numbers making.
Building blocks are great for the imagination and help develop eye/hand coordination as well.
Music for dancing or hopping about, develops gross motor skills. A good bouncing or squishy ball can be turned into a grand amount of games for one child, as well as two or more.
Card games and puzzles aid problem solving skills and can be great fun for curious toddlers as well as older kids.
And don’t forget, group activities are important to develop social skills and friendships.
Outdoor activities are important for health. There are lots of activities that the whole family can reap the health benefits of fresh air and exercise from, including: rolling and racing copy-tag, soccer-baseball, and hiking with a stroller or bikes.
A rich imagination brings with it: vitality, passion, creativity, and an eagerness to learn. Creativity helps kids find things out about themselves. And, children also gain self-sufficiency which sprouts inner strength or faith in themselves.