Imaginative Play Ideas for Children

Imaginative Play Ideas for Children

Author Bio:

Lucy Quick co-founded Perform with her partner Will Barnett in 2000. Perform run unique drama, dance and singing classes to help develop children’s confidence and social skills. With over 120 schools today (and growing) Lucy juggles spending time working and spending time with her lovely husband and two children. She writes over at the Perform Blog, loves chocolate a little bit too much and wishes the cleaning fairy really existed.


Imaginative Play Ideas for Children


“A little nonsense now and then, is relished by the wisest men.”

– Willy Wonka

Got a box (or even boxes) full of toys but a child who still complains that they’re bored?

Play has changed a great deal over the years – today children’s play has become more focussed on the toys themselves rather than the activity. So, rather than playing make-believe games, where they create their own worlds, and their own rules, children are more likely to focus their play on particular toys.

A number of psychologists have linked these changes in the way children play to their emotional and cognitive development. It’s been postulated that imaginative play assists in the development of executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but at its centre is self-regulation. Children who have good self-regulation are better able to exert self-control and discipline, which ultimately makes them better able to learn.

So, given the importance of imaginative play, rather than splashing out on yet more new toys why not encourage your child to play a little differently?

Most children have a naturally capacity for imaginative play. My Mum will often tell the story of how one Christmas I was given a wonderful dollhouse, which I seemed delighted with; however I quickly removed it from its gigantic box and then spent the rest of Christmas day playing with – yep you guessed it – the box. It was a boat in the middle of the ocean, then a rocket ship, a trap in a witch’s lair… They really would have been better off just getting me a gigantic cardboard box!

However, if your child needs a little more encouragement why not try out one of these games which we play with the children at Perform?


 Anything Material Goes

This game is great to get the imagination flowing. You’ll need a piece of material – ideally quite large – a bed sheet or blanket is ideal. Ask your child what the material could be used for. Take it in turns to imagine a new use for the material. Play along too – the possibilities are endless – a magic carpet, a picnic blanket, a desert island, a wizard’s cloak, a tent, etc.

You might like to encourage your child to take this a step further and create a game – e.g. a magic carpet could take them to an imaginary land for an amazing adventure!



 Wild West Assault Course

Here the task is to find the horse with the golden mane. He’s the fastest, strongest horse in the whole of the Wild West – but he’s very difficult to find!

Here the game is all about the journey and what happens on it – ideally you want your child to imagine some of the adventures you might go on, and the people they might meet – here are some suggestions:

–          White water rafting

–          Reading smoke signals for directions

–          Runaway mine train

–          Gold seekers

–          Cowboys

–          Rodeo riders

–          Native Americans


At the end of the adventure you may (or may not) find the imaginary horse with the golden mane – if you do find him – can you catch him?


Tents 2 Tepees

Again, as with material goes you’ll need a large bed sheet or blanket. You can create a ‘tent’ pretty easily by hanging the sheet over a couple of dining chairs.

Decide where in the world you’ll be going – e.g. the desert, the North pole, the jungle etc. Talk about how you’ll get to your destination, what the weather’s like there, what sort of people or animals you’ll meet etc.

When you ‘arrive’ set up your camp and have an adventure. As with the Wild West Assault Course encourage your child to lead the game.




  1. June 15, 2010 / 7:51 pm

    I love these ideas Lucy and will try them with my boys.
    They LOVE it when we do this sort of thing together, as a grown-up, we just have to let our inhibitions go and join in as if were five too!

  2. lucy
    June 19, 2010 / 12:33 pm

    As a early years drama practitioner working with children from 6 months to 7 years this advice is great. Children just want to use their imaginations, want to play and love it when adults want to do the same. i spend hours being a train or a monkey or a fairy with my own children (ok after a couple of hours i look forward to being grown up again). We can use imaginary play with no props at all – just an imagination and a passion for stories and no inhibitions.
    Life is one big story we just make it up as we go along – every day is an adventure.

  3. June 30, 2010 / 7:46 pm

    @Ali – Thank you! Have fun with your boys x

    @lucy – Ha! I love your comment about looking forward to being a grown up again! Thanks so much for your lovely comment x

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