Category Archives: Milestones & Learning

Benefits of Imaginative Play

Benefits of Imaginative Play

Written by: Elise Sledge

“Hurry! Jump on top of your couch and avoid the lava!”

“Whoa… a dinosaur is sleeping in your bed. What should we do?”

“If you were the ruler of a distant planet, what would you do first?”

What is Imaginative Play?

Imaginative play involves role-playing experiences that allow a child to safely explore alternate realities. Imaginative play can look different based on a child’s interests and culture, expressions of feelings and choices. While there are general guidelines for imaginative play, the specifics vary greatly. For example, imaginative play tends to reflect a child’s real experiences, like pretending to be a parent to a doll or playing doctor. This allows children to learn and reflect on different adult roles, which can vary based on culture. Adults can also engage in imaginative play, often taking form in games like Dungeons and Dragons or charades, and meditative practice.


There are numerous benefits to engaging in imaginative play for people of all ages.

  • Fostering Creativity and Problem Solving
    • In imaginary play, there is no limit to what can happen. Whales can swim in the sky, a 6-year-old can be President, and supervillains can climb through the TV to attack at any moment! To engage in imaginative play is to use creativity, as imaginative play involves solving unique problems, telling detailed stories, and taking new perspectives. Creativity is an important skill to develop because it can reduce stress and allow for self-expression, which has life-long benefits.
  • Developing Social Skills
    • During imaginative play, children learn to take turns, share, and work together. Sometimes play involves limited roles and props; children must learn to share responsibilities and wait to take on their role. Engaging in play with one’s community (e.g., classroom, neighborhood, after-school program) also increases feelings of connectedness, confidence, and self-reliance.
  • Developing Emotional Skills
    • Learning and practicing different perspectives in play can allow children to practice caring for others and showing empathy. They can also practice managing unpleasant emotions, as the characters they play may encounter difficult situations. Practicing these emotions will prepare them to handle the same emotions in their own lives. This can help to decrease anxiety when facing new emotions and situations.
  • Develop Language Skills
    • Engaging in imaginative play often requires communication between many characters, whether the characters are real or imaginary. Describing and narrating what is happening increases children’s vocabulary and language skills. Increased skills can lead to more comfort in social situations, as children learn about the influence of oral language and how to use it to create and tell stories.

How to Encourage Imaginative Play

  • Help your children to have new experiences. Go for a walk around your neighborhood, visit a new store, explore a park, or ride the public bus. While you are out, talk with your children about what is going on around them, ask questions, and teach them how you would respond in certain situations.
  • At home, encourage children to use their imagination with everyday objects. Surprise them with a sword battle from a paper towel roll or lay down a bath towel for a beach day in the living room. Bring the magic to them by introducing new scenarios. Once they understand the theme, let them take the lead and ask them “what happens next?” Props can be important, and they can be made from anything in the house. If you prefer your kids to use certain props over others, it could be helpful to create a designated space for their imaginative play. Having a specific drawer or basket of items like old clothes, office supplies, or scrap paper can provide kids the freedom and opportunity to engage in imaginative play. Cardboard boxes can be trains, planes, or spaceships!
  • Get involved when you can! As your child permits, take on your own role in their story. You can be anyone you want to be!
  • Common scenarios for imaginative play:
    • Role-play different professions like doctor, teacher, or singer
    • Fight supervillains and play superheroes
    • Play as parents
    • Pretend to travel

Feeling Stuck?

Sometimes it is hard as an adult to engage in imaginative play. It can feel silly or embarrassing, and it may be difficult to think of new ideas. It takes practice! It may feel unnatural and uncomfortable at first, so it is important to remember that imaginary play is limitless. What is “right” or “wrong” is up to whoever is playing! Also, it could be helpful to utilize the internet to make some DIY props or lead fun, new scenarios. Use sites like Pinterest or watch guided visualization videos on YouTube for inspiration.

Get your friends and partners involved, too! If fighting invisible superheroes with your kid is not the first step you would like to take, try playing charades, creative writing, or going outside to explore with friends. Take photos of your community on your phone or camera as if you are a visiting tourist. If you look for inspiration, you will find it!

Enjoy exploring new worlds with your children and friends!

COVID-19, Return to School, and Children’s Mental Health

COVID-19, Return to School, and Children’s Mental Health

Written by: Sarah Kaufman

The COVID-19 pandemic shifted many aspects of student’s daily lives. Support may be necessary to improve children’s mental health during this time. Read more to learn about how the COVID-19 Pandemic affects student mental health and discover what can be done in school and at home to support young learners.

Children’s Mental Health During the Early Days of the COVID-19 Pandemic

In March of 2020 school environments quickly and radically changed. When the COVID-19 pandemic began almost all schools across the country shifted to some version of remote learning. Students’ extracurriculars were halted and almost all forms of socialization were paused. Additionally, mental health services shifted to remote platforms, and we began to see increases in depression and anxiety in children and teens. By September of 2021, 18 months into the pandemic, most schools returned to in-person learning. However, many students fell behind academically, were anxious about returning to school, and presented with behavior challenges.

Current State of COVID-19 and Children’s Mental Health

When students return to in-person school, any pre-existing anxiety regarding school may surface, along with new fears of getting sick. Additionally, students may feel anxious about re-engaging with difficult academic content. Given that remote schooling disrupted students’ social networks, there may be disappointment, confusion, or sadness with new or changed norms and friendships in the return-to-school environment. Some students may experience ongoing COVID-related trauma due to losing a loved one or isolating from a sick family member, which could lead to grief and ongoing worry. Some students might also experience economic hardships from the pandemic, including unstable housing or food and work insecurities.

What Can Be Done in School and at Home?

  1. Increase School Connectedness
    1. It is important that schools continue to encourage family involvement during student’s return to school. The more supported and connected students feel, the faster they will readjust to a school-based learning environment. It is also important that schools consider any barriers to engagement that families may face. Personal connections are needed now more than ever. Positive messages at school and at home can increase these feelings of connection. When looking at strategies to promote mental health during the return to school, it has been shown that the most successful schools focus first on rebuilding the school community. The CDC also recommends that educators schedule virtual calls or tours with parents to share about their students’ experiences.

  1.  De-stigmatize Mental Health
    1. Parents and educators can remind their children that increased anxiety or stress is normal. Having additional stress is common during hard times, and parents and educators may feel this as well. It is important to inform all students of available resources. Supporting children’s social-emotional well-being through positive, inclusive, and safe classrooms and home climates, as well as building strong relationships, promotes mental health. The CDC also has resources to help individuals take care of themselves during stressful times.

  1. Universal Support and Screening
    1. Increasing numbers of children have needed services upon returning to school during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It is important to implement rapidly available strategies and support within schools. Schools can aim to establish or enhance universal, school-wide screening for social-emotional and behavioral needs, as well as incorporate the perspectives of families and students into this screening. Some recommendations and strategies for incorporating Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) can be found here.

Additional resources for supporting children coming back to school:

Going back to school after the coronavirus lockdown – Animated video for children

Young Children and Effective Communication

Young Children and Effective Communication

Written by: Catie Chun

Effective parent-child communication beginning in early childhood sets the stage for trusting relationships and development of self-esteem. Researchers have even been able to predict life satisfaction based on the strength of parent-child communication! 

When we communicate orally with children, we are not just saying words — we are also communicating our values, expectations, and beliefs. With this in mind, it is important to consider what unspoken messages we are sharing. When we set our children up for success, praise their strengths and show them that we are listening, they receive the message that they are capable and worthy. 

Using Effective Commands Tells Children “You Can Do It!”
Young children want to do a good job. As a caretaker, giving clear instructions makes it more likely that your child will follow through as instructed. We want to make our commands as effective as possible to set children up for success! 

Give direct commands to eliminate confusion and to make it clear that the child, not you, should complete the task.
• Direct: “Pick up your toys.”
• Indirect: “Let’s pick up your toys.”

State commands positively and tell the child what to do instead of what not to do.
• To do: “Sit in the chair.”
• Not to do: “Don’t climb on the table.”

Break up multi-step directions into several single tasks so it is easier for your child to remember. This also gives you more opportunities to praise your child!
• Single: “Put your shoes in the closet.” Give praise. “Make your bed.” Give praise.
• Compound: “Put your shoes away and make your bed.”Single: “Put your shoes in the closet.” Give praise. “Make your bed.” Give praise.

Be specific and let your child know exactly what is expected. This can make it easier to decide whether the child has followed through.
• Specific: “Please walk.”
• Vague: “Behave!”

How Using Specific Praise Tells Children “You Are Working Hard!”
Young children crave their caretaker’s approval! To sweeten the deal, be sure to name the action that you like. Naming the quality or action in your praise increases the likelihood that your child will repeat the action in the future. To promote a growth mindset, it is important to praise the process and the effort that your child puts into a task rather than the outcome.

• “I love the way you are sharing with your younger sibling. You are being so kind!”
• “Way to push yourself out of your comfort zone and introduce yourself to a new friend! That is really brave.”
• “Thanks for giving your best effort at saying these numbers — I can tell you were working your hardest!”“I love the way you are sharing with your younger sibling. You are being so kind!”
DO praise immediately: praise is most effective when delivered immediately after the action.
DO praise frequently: the golden ratio is five praise statements for each command.
DO praise enthusiastically: young children respond to energy and encouragement!
DON’T tag on criticisms, reminders of past failures, or requests for future performance: praise should be a celebration of the child’s work, period.
DON’T praise undesired or inappropriate behavior: this is confusing for children — wait for something more constructive, then praise positive behavior.
DON’T be vague: your child is more likely to repeat the desired behavior when they know what you liked!

Using Your Listening Skills Tells Children “You Are Important to Me!”
Consistently engaging in meaningful conversation with your young child shows them that their words and thoughts matter to you. Using some of these listening skills can help emphasize that you are listening.

Ask open-ended questions to encourage your child to elaborate on their answers. Questions that begin with “what,” “where,” “whom,” or “how,” are helpful tools to start conversations with young children. 

Acknowledge your child’s feelings and let them know that it is okay to feel that way. Children need to have their feelings supported by their parents to feel understood. 

Let your child talk! One-sided lecturing and nagging is not a meaningful conversation. Use these communication builders to open the lines of communication: 
• “I’d like to hear about it!”
• “Tell me what that’s like.”
• “Go ahead. I’m listening.”
• “I understand.”
• “What do you think about… ”
• “Would you like to talk about it?”
• “Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?”
• “That’s interesting.”
• “Explain that to me.”

•  CDC’s Essentials for Parenting Toddlers and Preschoolers: Communicating with Your Child 
• The REACH Institute at Arizona State University has brief videos on Making Clear and Effective Requests and Using Positive Praise and Incentives
•  Boys Town Guide to Communication Skills