The importance of imagination in play

The importance of imagination in play

One of the most important areas of learning we want to encourage in our children is their imagination and creativity which is crucial for children’s development.

Open ended play begins very early on in a child’s life when they use objects to learn about the world around them with the freedom to discover and create with real resources in their play, not just toys.
We know that children usually prefer play that stimulates their curiosity and allows them to become engrossed in their own imagination and creativity

Loose parts/open ended play offer limitless opportunities for your child to explore.  They are materials with no specific set of directions and they can be used either alone or together with other materials.  They can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart and put back together in multiple ways.  The child, rather than the adult determines how the materials are used.  Open ended play allows children to take resources that have multiples uses and manipulate them into their own play in their own manner.  Where a plastic apple can really only be a plastic apple, a pine cone can be a piece of food in the role play area, cargo for the trucks outside, used to develop fine motor skills with elastic bands or a paintbrush, be a boat in water or part of a treasure basket for younger children to explore.

There are many benefits of open ended and loose part play as your child will be able to direct their play in whichever way they wish to, with little adult intervention.

Why is it so important?
Open ended and loose parts play is a place where a child’s imagination comes alive and they use resources around them in creative and fresh ways.  It is play without a destination or purpose in mind.

  • It develops imagination
  • It encourages creativity
  • It encourages problem solving
  • Develops decision making skills
  • Provides a relaxed environment where there is no fear of making mistakes
  • Gives the space to explore ideas, test theories and engage in new concepts
  • Develops social and emotional intelligence.

Ideas of some open ended/loose parts you could incorporate into your child’s play.

Planks of wood and stumps

Perfect for balancing, making ramps, climbing on, building with, making a train or a boat or a den

Crates and tyres
Can be used in so many different ways.  They can be used for den making with tarpaulin or old bedding, a shop or market stall, stacked up to climb on, building an obstacle course

Cardboard boxes
Always a favourite with children, especially the really large ones they can hide in.  The amount of imagination that children will use when playing is immense.  The box could be a spaceship going off to the moon, or a boat sailing the seas.

Treasure baskets
You will have seen the ideas for different treasure baskets that we have uploaded onto Famly and the objects that you can use within these are very easily sourced from items you will have at home.  You could use household objects such as wooden and metal spoons, scarves and pieces of material, rolling pins, whisk etc.

Dressing up box
When making up this box, you do not need to go and purchase readymade costumes, instead find clothes you have in the house which will inspire their imagination.  Use materials as a bandana, give your child some cardboard to make a wooden sword, an old t-shirt and some cut off trousers and you instantly your child could be a pirate or whatever else that their imagination comes up with.  Use hats, masks and scarves and material which can be used as a cloak as well.

Mud kitchen
Of course this is a great way for children to freely explore their natural environment, investigate and use their imagination.
You don’t need to buy an expensive resources, you can create one using an old crate or pallet and then add old pans and pots, spoons, mashers, sieves, ladles, spatulas, bowls, plates and cups and of course water.
Then just sit back and watch your child explore, making magic potions, perfume, or just to make their own culinary creation!

How should loose parts be presented to children?
You must check that they are safe with no small bits which could present a choking hazard and there are no sharp edges and then just leave them to it.  You could have storage box or basket which is filled with different types of loose parts and then just keep rotating them, bringing out new items or adding to the existing ones.

What will my child learn?

Personal, Social and Emotional Development
– Independent play, making choices about what and how to play, sharing resources, playing alongside others

Physical Development
– Fine and gross motor skills, learning how to lift and carry

Communication and Language
– Speaking with other children during shared play, new language and vocabulary


– Concepts such as shape, size, sequencing, sorting, counting, combining and measuring


– Mark making and storytelling narratives during play


Understanding the World
– Using loose parts during role play; stones in the kitchen, wooden blocks as cars, testing ideas and theories.


Expressive Arts and Media
– Opportunity to explore media and materials, application of loose parts for creativity and art.