Well, when you think about imaginative play or what is also known as creative play, it's important to realize that we're living in a world today where several factors have come together to make this type of play go away from our children's lives. The first thing is what we call the evolution of toys. Toys today dictate the play versus toys from many years ago where the child dictated the play. Toys used to be very simple and children would decide how to play with them.
The second factor is safety. We-most of us-live in a world where we're much more concerned with keeping our children close to us and knowing where they are and making sure that we're always watching them. Very few of us live in neighborhoods anymore where our children just go out, and see who's playing, and set off into the fields, or down the street and start making up scenarios; so safety is a big factor.
The next factor is, it’s structured activities and enrichment. More and more children are spending all of their free time taking classes or in after-care. Another facet of that is more and more parents working and children in structured activities. When they're in structured activities, again, they're not deciding what to do they're being told what to do, even if it's something really worthwhile.
And the fourth thing is the increasing use of screens in our lives. Phones, tablets, computers, television, you name it-children are increasingly being baby sat and diverted by screens, and the truth is, we really don't need them. What happens when we give our children open free time, even time when they might tell us "I feel bored” is they start to imagine. They start to imagine what they would like to do, what they would like to create, what they would like to pretend to be; if they have friends around they start collaborating and coming up with a scene: "You be the princess and I'll be the knight and we'll go and rescue the other princess".
These are the times when our children are using a part of their brain that strengthens the executive function, the self-regulation part of their brain helps them become better learners in school. It doesn't seem connected, but it's absolutely connected. They do studies where they find out that self-regulation, emotional control, attention span and focus are all improved by this type of play and children are getting worse and worse at those kinds of skills.
So, don't be afraid to have a day every week where you don't have anything planned. Don't be afraid to have several afternoons a week where your kids don't have anything to do. Don't be afraid when they say "I'm bored". When they say "I'm bored", think to yourself, good, you know, and just say, " Hmm, I wonder what you'll do". It's a magical time to see them shift into being told what to do or playing with a toy or a device that tells them what to do to them starting to create what they want to do.