Imaginative Play

You might have noticed that we love imagination at LEAP. You can find it all around! From the process art station – where there is no intended use for the materials, just exploration – to the dress up station – where little ones can be anything from a tree to a zookeeper. Imagination and creativity are major pieces of our LEAP program. When a child feels free to explore his or her imagination, the possibilities are truly endless, as are the benefits!

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Research shows that empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings and perspective of others, is a learned skill. LEAPers are developing empathy right before our eyes and it’s a process that continues their entire lives. We might see this happening at the sensory bin, when a child shares his or her dragonfly figurine with a friend, or reading a story together under the fort. At our imaginative play station, we hope to see little ones step into the shoes of others and develop a sense of empathy for the natural world around them.

Empathy building is a wonderful benefit of imaginative play, but there are others! Check out some additional benefits that may stem from our new imaginative play station:

Language Development

  • What better way to explore vocabulary than through pretending to be something new? Imaginative play lends well to rich discussion and storytelling. Did you notice a few safari goers walking around in their vests, hats, and binoculars last week? These LEAPers were searching for African animals and had many wonderful conversations about what they found.
  • Imaginative play also helps build the connection between language and actions. Soon you’ll see animal food dishes at the imaginative play station. LEAPers love watching the zookeepers place food for the animals. Now, they’ll have the chance to do the same and talk with a loved one about the process.

Social and Emotional Skills

  • On top of empathy, children will be able to develop other social and emotional skills through imaginative play. You may see self-esteem and confidence grow as your little one realizes he or she can be anything! You’ll likely see little ones sharing materials and playing cooperatively, which leads to taking turns and understanding responsibility.
  • Imaginative play is the perfect time to test out and learn how to process emotions. Children can pretend to be brave as they imitate a firefighter or a tiger. They can pretend to be sad when their imaginary puppy is feeling sick. They can also learn about expressing fear during pretend scary situations.

Cognitive Development

  • Imaginative play can aid in developing executive function, which helps people focus on a goal and be adaptive or flexible in stressful situations. When children have the chance to pretend, they can experience trial and error without significant consequences. For example, forgetting to feed your imaginary snake will not result in a hungry snake, but could lead to a great learning moment about caring for animals.
  • Imaginative play strengthens a child’s working memory. Working memory allows children to shift their attention and focus from one task to another. In other words, when you see your little one flitting from station to station, and returning to some of the same spaces, that’s a good thing! You may even see your child problem solving (How do binoculars work?!) which is an essential life skill.


We’re looking forward to providing more resources for imaginative play at LEAP. Do you see imaginative play happening at home? Looking for more inspiration? Check out two of our favorite books: “Not a Box” and “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis :)


Written by Nicole Filippone