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PREVIEW: The Critical Role of Imagination in Childhood Development by Dr. Caron Goode

imagination_150pxImagination is a potent ingredient that we as busy parents often dismiss and brush aside as mere childhood play. But imagination is a critical component to learning—one that serves as the foundation for a host of necessary life skills.

Self-dialog is a component of imaginative play that helps children learn to overcome obstacles and master the art of self-regulation. Unstructured imaginative play also serves to round out a child’s whole-person development.

Recent studies indicate that imaginative play has changed drastically in the past 60 years, and that children’s overall development is suffering because of it. One study conducted in 2001 intended to compare results to a similar study from the late 1940’s. Its goal was to test children’s capacity for self-regulation.

In the 1940’s study, the researches tested children ages 3, 5 and 7 by asking them to stand perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds could not stand still at all, the 5-year olds could for about three minutes, and the most of the 7-year-olds could stand still for as long as the researchers asked.

Compare this to the astonishing results from the 2001 study at the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning, where the 5-year-olds could only stand for a duration equal to that of the previous level of 3-year olds. More tellingly, the 7-year-olds of today were barely approaching the level of 5-year-olds from over a half century ago. Psychologist Elena Bodrova commented, “The results were very sad.”

Why is imaginative play such a critical component in developing self-regulation? During periods of make-believe and pretend, children engage in self-dialog – a life skill that helps empower them to learn to overcome obstacles, master cognitive and social skills and manage their emotions.

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