How important is pretend play for your child's imagination?

Pretend play or role play is nothing but encouraging children to mimic real life people and situations in safety of their environment. Now, we all know that a decade ago, there was no invasion of smartphones and TV’s, thus forcing us to engage in pretend play.

I still remember my younger days when me and a friend used to pretend play all the time. Our favorite situation was the bus station. So, I was the ticket vendor and she was the conductor. We used to pretend that we were different passengers that we had seen while travelling with our parents. We made tickets out of old paper and used punches to punch them just like the conductor does.

How did all this help us? It helped us understand the profession of a conductor or a ticket vendor better. We learnt social skills seeing how the conductor interacted with the passengers. We learnt about money and counting due to tickets and fake money. We also created our own game props such as tickets, fake money, and a ticket window with some cardboard boxes. When I think about it now, these were the kinds of games that kept us busy whole day and no parent intervention was required.

In today’s situation, you cannot expect to just hide all your gadgets and expect your kids to forget about them too. But, we should take advantage of technology and create a perfect amalgamation of using gadgets and encouraging imagination. While my daughter is still quite young, I am definitely going to encourage her to play with her friends with imaginary situations. Meanwhile, for my friends with children who are 3+ years old, here are some awesome ideas to encourage imagination through pretend play:

•   Programmer – Yes, we are in a savvy world and our vision of professions has changed. When your kids see their parents glued to the screen, they want to know what exactly they are doing. Help them out by creating an office scenario, where you create laptops out of cereal boxes all with a movable flap and glue on some letters. Turn the screen as a writable one and let your little one have fun.
•   Chef – This is the easiest one ever. The amount of props required are so easy to find, you will want them playing this all the time. Hand them some pots and pans along with some flour or ready-to-use dough and let them create some goodies. You can also ask them to make a salad with lettuce leaves and other veggies, which you all can later relish.
•   Post office – Oh how I love the post office pretend play. All we need is a table, some old stamps, old letters, a stamping pad and stamp, and some other stationary. We can have variations with multiple tables and kids taking turns in being the post master and post man.
•   Librarian – We all have tons of books lying around. Why not make play out of it? Stack them up to make a library book display. Kids can be librarians and borrowers and pretend (or actually read) to read. You can create a fake library card that the librarian will stamp after you return the book.
•   Doctor – The evergreen doctor set. I always wanted to be the doctor and not the patient, and that was the only time when parents had to intervene to stop us from fighting. Get that old lab coat out and let the children play doctor to their stuffed animals. Give them a writing pad to prescribe medicines. TO add to the fun, convert a desk to a medical store and handover the medicines to the patient.

While reading these, I was just imagining what fun it would be to play all these with my daughter. She is quite young to understand the concept of pretend play, the only one she understands now is peek-a-boo. But, boosting imagination is really needed for kids to understand where their aptitude lies or else they will be nothing more than mimicking replicas of us! How do you encourage your toddlers to pretend play? Which are the best ideas that you use with them?