The ability of imaginative play to support children’s cognitive development makes it an essential ingredient of EYFS. It enables children to explore, discover and make connections and helps them develop critical language and thinking skills. The great news for EYFS teachers is that there are many great ways to introduce imaginative play into the playground. Here we’ll look at five of the best.
The playground is the perfect environment for imaginative play. Outdoors, children are allowed to run, climb, make noise, get messy, put their hands on things and get stuck in. And with more space and fewer restrictions, they are freer to unleash their imaginations and benefit more from their play. This is especially true when there is a variety of imaginative play options for them to choose from. Hopefully, the ones we mention below will give you an idea of how to create a more imaginative environment for your EYFS pupils.
1. A world of pretend
Young children love roleplay and pretend play and they are naturally inclined to get involved. Here, they’ll use their imaginations to invent new worlds, play different characters and act out endless scenarios, all of which help them to understand the world they live in. They’ll explore situations, feelings and relationships, discover new ways to interact, finding out more about themselves as they do so.
The best way to encourage roleplay and pretend play is to provide a range of opportunities for children to imagine being someone, something or somewhere else. The easiest way is to provide improvisation stimuli, like props and costumes. However, you can take this to a completely new level by introducing imaginative play products like pirate ships, wigwams, bridges, tunnels, play huts and trains. Outdoor play equipment of this kind can transport children’s imaginations to a world of new experiences while speeding up their cognitive development.
2. Action adventure
While there is purpose-built apparatus to stimulate pretend play, feedback from our customers has shown that a lot of our active play equipment is also used for imaginative play. As a result, we’ve incorporated some imaginative elements into our active play equipment. Our Tangled, rope playing equipment, for example, is inspired by giant spiders and spiders’ webs, our castle play towers are inspired by medieval castles and our Wild Wood collection has seen new additions that incorporate tree and leaf designs and wobbly seats.
3. Glorious mud
Okay, real mud might be a bit too messy for EYFS environments, but messy play, in general, is excellent for developing imaginations. It’s fun, it's tangible, it's hands-on and it's great for developing sensory perception, problem-solving and decision-making skills. From traditional activities like sandpits and mud kitchens to more modern innovations, like magnetic water walls and splash trays, there are opportunities to learn about physical properties, make decisions about how to make things and solve problems when those sandcastles don’t turn out just right.
4. Sound and music
Imaginative play that involves sound and music is great for developing sensory skills, helping children to differentiate different sounds and patterns. There are lots of ways you can introduce sound making into the playground: tins and plastic containers partially filled with rice or dried peas, bendy tubes that whistle when you whirl them, gongs, cymbals and bells, speaking cones made from rolled-up sheets of paper and so forth.
Alternatively, you can install outdoor musical instruments specially designed for heavy use in EYFS playgrounds. Purpose-built to inspire the imaginations of young ones, they include drainpipe drums and drum tables, xylophones, washboards and chimes. Together, they provide a range of different percussion instruments which, as they don’t need specific musical skills to play, enable children to explore sound and music independently, with friends or in teacher-led activities.
5. Fantasy and fiction
Nothing opens up young imaginations more than listening to a good story – whether it's read to them by a teacher or told to them by a classmate. It takes their minds to places they have never previously imagined and in doing so, expands their own imaginations and helps them create stories of their own.
How do you create the perfect storytelling environment? At ESP, we’ve come up with a solution that we think is the perfect fantasy setting for listening to fiction: a circle of toadstool designed chairs with a large, wooden fairy tale inspired storytelling chair taking centre stage. Gathering around to listen will be like stepping into a magic world. And, of course, anyone can take that seat and tell their wonderful stories.
EYFS children learn through play and imaginative play is one of the best ways to develop those all-important cognitive skills. To facilitate this effectively, schools and nurseries need to provide resources and equipment that encourage children to take part and inspire them to fire up their imaginations. Hopefully, the suggestions we have made here will give you ideas for your own playground.
For more information and to see our range of products, visit our Imaginative Play page.