Strategy

Imaginative Play

Pretend Play, Symbolic Play, Dramatic Play, Make-Believe Play

UDL 3.3

Imaginative Play is when students invent and assign fictitious roles and meaning to people and objects during play times. During Imaginative Play, students transform objects, pretend to be other people, and develop scenarios in which their actions take place. Imaginative Play gives students opportunities to practice navigating situations that they have encountered in the past or may face in the future. When students engage in Imaginative Play they practice common social and emotional skills such as coping with undesirable situations, language use and communication, seeing other perspectives, and conflict resolution. Students also develop skills of critical thinking, innovation, and problem solving within Imaginative Play. Teachers can support Imaginative Play by having props that encourage pretending in the classroom (e.g., costumes, doctor kits, common household items), providing time for students to freely play and interact with props and each other, and prompting or encouraging students when they engage in Imaginative Play.

Ready-to-Use Resources

Planning Guide

Cognitive Development Imaginative Play Guide

A guide for promoting cognitive development through imaginative play. Guide lists props and objects that can be used during imaginative play and suggestions for teacher prompting.

Grade K, 1, 2 · Listening, Speaking, Behavior & SEL · 1 pages


Planning Guide

Language Development Imaginative Play Guide

A guide for promoting language development through imaginative play. Guide lists props and objects that can be used during imaginative play and suggestions for teacher prompting.

Grade K, 1, 2 · Listening, Speaking, Behavior & SEL · 1 pages


Planning Guide

Physical Development Imaginative Play Guide

A guide for promoting physical development through imaginative play. Guide lists props and objects that can be used during imaginative play and suggestions for teacher prompting.

Grade K, 1, 2 · Listening, Speaking, Behavior & SEL · 1 pages


Planning Guide

Social-Emotional Development Imaginative Play Guide

A guide for promoting social-emotional development through imaginative play. Guide lists props and objects that can be used during imaginative play and suggestions for teacher prompting.

Grade K, 1, 2 · Listening, Speaking, Behavior & SEL · 1 pages


Implementation Tips

Independent Play
Create opportunities for students to engage in Imaginative Play without adult input or influence. When students play freely, they are able to fully exercise their creativity as well as openly incorporate and explore social situations from their daily life. If students need support to engage in Imaginative Play, try pairing them with more proficient or outgoing students.
Social Supports
Provide students with supports that encourage communication and language use during Imaginative Play. Ensure that students have access to their usual supports such as communication systems. In addition, prepare choice boards specific to the classroom and available play props accessible to students during play.
Maintain Novelty
Introduce new play props periodically to maintain student interest and engagement during play. Additionally, try rotating the available props in the classroom or suggesting new uses for classroom objects and play props (e.g., a doll house can also be used as a mall).
Older Students
Provide older students with opportunities to engage in imaginative activities. Creative writing activities can prompt students use their imagination (e.g., What would you do if you could fly?). Projects and experiments can be embedded within imaginative scenarios. For example, as a physics project students can be “commissioned” to build a catapult that can launch medical supplies across an imaginary city that is set up in the classroom.
Games
Give students access to games that encourage Imaginative Play and creative thinking. Games that require skills such as imitation, role-playing, creating scenarios, and communicating ideas to others provide opportunities for imaginative thinking. Some examples of imaginative games include Pictionary, Clue, Charades, Risk, Minecraft and more advanced role-playing games such as Settlers of Catan and Magic: The Gathering.

Examples

Language Development
A first grade teacher has several students who are learning the meaning of prepositions. After explicitly teaching the students prepositions, the teacher incorporates the learning objective into Imaginative Play class activities. In one activity, the whole class plays a version of “Simon Says” where every student has a small ball. The teacher incorporates prepositions when giving instructions for the game (e.g. “Simon says, put the ball under your foot.”) Throughout the activity, students gain additional exposure to prepositions and peers serve as models when students are not sure of a word’s meaning.
Academic Activities
As a summative activity after finishing a novel, students divide into small groups and recreate scenes from the story using classroom objects as props. Students then perform their scenes for the class in the order they occur in the book. Additionally, students learning about the United States court system can participate in mock trials that follow the judicial process.
Social and Emotional Learning
A teacher encourages students to use imaginative scenarios for social and emotional support in areas such as self-regulation, impulse control, and understanding emotions. For example, one student pretends to have a bubble or fort surrounding their work area to help maintain personal space. Another student who is working on controlling their impulses pretends to hold a fish bowl while walking down the hall to keep their hands occupied. The teacher also encourages students learning to understand and process their own emotions to relate their feelings to fictional characters or ideas (e.g., “I feel like energetic Eric right now.”).

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