The Importance of Fantasy in Children’s Play

There was a point in the latter part of the last century where altogether too much emphasis was placed on accelerated learning. We overlooked the importance of fantasy in children’s play and focused in on teaching them skills that should have been reserved for a later time in their development. With the influx of daycare centers and pre-schools that popped up across the country to accommodate working mothers, little toddlers began being ‘forced’ into a classroom-like setting. It was here that they were taught the basics of language arts and arithmetic even before many of them were potty trained!

To Everything There Is a Season

Unfortunately, that which began as a well-meaning attempt to give our children a head start in education often ended up miserably. Instead of helping our children imagine all that they could be we drilled into them the importance of knowing their letters and numbers at an age when they wanted to be firemen or spacemen. Little girls wanted to be fairies and princesses and instead we set them down in a chair and taught them phonics and then we wondered why our kids were growing up long before their time. It is wise to remember that children need to be allowed the time to play and grow. Fantasy and the imagination are natural and necessary to human development. Let the children be children as long as you can. There is plenty of time to face the real world later. To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven. Ecc 3:1

The Imagination and Problem Solving

Imagination is a powerful tool in the development of a young mind because it encourages children to resolve problems on their own. Fantasy fosters creative thinking where a child learns problem solving skills that will be needed as adults. Have you ever stopped to wonder why we have a generation or two of adults who haven’t learned the art of conflict resolution? Instead of teaching our children that the world isn’t black and white, we put everything into a box for them and taped it up tight. Let your child use his or her imagination to put things into perspective. There is something to be said for encouraging them to create (fantasize/imagine) solutions to problems they encounter!

Using Fantasy to Face Their Fears

In the world of fantasy children can learn to face their fears. They can fight off imaginary terrors and rule this world into which they have been thrust. There is no monster under the bed that is too big or bad to be defeated because after all, they have a magic sword that can chop off its head. Instead of giving them the tools they needed to face those fears we were encouraged to tell them there is nothing to be afraid of. To a small child those fears are very, very real and not to be taken lightly. Instead of telling them nothing is there, help them create imaginary tools to face those fears!

Child Psychology and Play Therapy

Now consider for a moment what a child psychologist does when asked to ‘interview’ a young child who has faced some unforgivable horror such as molestation. The child will be given dolls and toys to play with while being observed by a trained professional. How the child ‘acts out’ with those toys tells the psychologist so much more than a child could ever put into words. While a small child may not have the physical ability to control his or her surroundings, play therapy enables the child to deal with those events on some inner level. Through his or her imagination the child can build a world that is safe. The child psychologist then enters this world of make believe with the child to begin the process of healing.

All Inventions Began as a Dream

Fostering your child’s imagination today might just be the foundation for tomorrow’s cure for cancer or aids. The importance of fantasy in children’s play is never more apparent than when looking back at just how many inventions began in the mind of a child. If you stifle the child’s ability to pretend and imagine you may be blocking the road to something wonderful in that child’s future. Fantasy provides a child with tools to ‘paint a picture’ of his or her dreams and aspirations.

Child psychologists and educators alike are coming around full circle and encouraging us, as parents, to take the time to stoke our children’s eager imaginations. Although we worry about our children not being able to differentiate fantasy from the real world, it is important to take a step back for a moment and look at the role of the imagination in a child’s development. Through the world of make believe children can be anything they want to be and oftentimes grow into the very person they created as a child. Life isn’t black and white and fantasy provides your child with all the colors needed to paint a beautiful life. Give your child those tools by fostering a healthy imagination.

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