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Why fantasy play stimulates curiosity

For young children, learning self-expression can involve a process of trial and error. Educators need to shape their natural curiosity about how the world works and how they may interact with the people around them.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

Imaginative play has many positive social and emotional outcomes for young children. Crucially, its biggest impact can be linked to providing safety and security to express feelings and emotions that drive behaviour and positive interactions with those with whom children interact. 

For young children, learning self-expression can involve a process of trial and error. Educators need to shape their natural curiosity about how the world works and how they may interact with the people around them. 

With a clear line of support and willingness to encourage children, they can discover these relationships and how to develop social etiquette alongside them. Creating unique and unique play experiences allows children to share their understanding of the world. It offers opportunities to ask questions and process information throughout the learning process. Recreating familiar characters that children are often a first source of inspiration to explore what it may feel like to experience life from another person's perspective.

Fantasy play is an important foundation of children’s Self-identity.

Supporting children's emotional development and well-being can encourage creative skills, such as problem-solving and self-regulation. With no limits placed on a child to be anyone other than themselves, it shapes self-confidence and self-belief.  

An easily identifiable feature of young children’s play is how they incorporate fantasy elements into their experiences. The ability to draw freely on their imagination is a key way to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of their relationships between people and the world around them. 

This may involve them engaged in simple tasks such as pouring a cup of tea for a baby, trialling a change of tone to give a puppet a voice, or finding comfort in wearing dress-up clothes or costumes that provide an opportunity to express themselves through another persona.

The link between fantasy play and Cognitive development 

The link between fantasy play and cognitive development lies within the answers it can provide, which include the questions it can generate and the creative responses it can inspire during a collaborative interaction. Whether this occurs between children and their peers, or children and adults, it is important to explore the freedom of expression fully. 

With an opportunity to develop ‘sky high’ ideas and encourage children to draw upon their imagination and genuine curiosity, it invites them to reason and provide answers that suit their current understanding whilst simultaneously supporting them to recognise for themselves what makes sense and what does not.  

There does not need to be a rush to give young children answers or insist that they live in a black-and-white world when they see the world in its vibrant colour and beauty.

Fantasy & reality - Who decides?

Fantasy is a necessary part of life for both children and adults. If we did not dream, there would not be the same opportunities to progress. Without fantasy, there would be less joy and excitement about the wonders of simply being alive! The ability to distinguish between the two occurs naturally. With careful guidance, children reach a point in which they make the switch when they are emotionally able to accept the difference without the feeling of carrying a psychological burden.

Delighting in the enjoyment of Make Believe

When attending the Semann and Slattery ‘Inspire’ - Fantasy, Opportunity, Reality, Conference, delegates were invited to explore the concept of fantasy and how it can provide a catalyst for change to reimagine a world in which we can aspire to provide the very best in care and education for our children, that breaks down the current barriers that exist. 

Speakers Karla Wintle and Vanessa Field shared a research project in which they interviewed Preschool children at Springvale Service for Children about their ideas for their future transition to school. The children eagerly shared their vision of places filled with vibrancy and energy, much like how they see the rest of the world, which was presented to delegates in a session titled Magic, enlightenment, and Possibilities: The post-modern Childhood

Weaving into their findings, using the 1939 children’s literature classic ‘Enchanted Wood,’ by Enid Blyton, the story plot centres around a magical tree with imaginary worlds coming from the top of it. Wintle and Field detailed excerpts from the book in which three young children on the journey meet pixies, elves, and other characters along the way during their adventures. 

“It was the first big adventure of their lives! 

What were they going to see? 

What were they going to do? 

Gleaning the wisdom of the journey children undertook in the woods, there were opportunities to consider this experience in alignment with the stories of the past within the present. The common links include trusting intuition while forming friendships through meaningful exchanges with their peers who guided them. 

The Role of Fantasy in the Real World 

Fantasy and imagination are heavily featured in many stories, games, and movies, allowing the viewer permission to ponder, reasons to reflect, and a willingness to wonder about the world around them. They are popular because they invite respite from the sometimes harsh realities of the big wide world. 

Through imaginative play in which children are inspired to stay curious, develop their creative skills, and refine their attention to discover what and where their learning is inviting them to go, they can experience life in depth, with the safety of dreaming. 

Encouraging children to draw upon their questions and theories supports them to stay open and embrace change on their terms, but also to inspire new generations of ‘thinkers’ who become ‘action takers’, following on the legacies left before them.

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