Inside: Here are ten ways to encourage a child’s imagination through constructive play. Discover how this creative play can boost your child’s skills. And the best news, you’re probably already doing some of these!
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I scrub soap bubbles on the plate. In the background, I can hear my two young children mumbling as they play in the room next to me. I listen to them role-playing as they build together. My son makes the low rumble of a car driving through the Wonder Makers™ Soft Slumber Campground™, while my daughter enlists his help to finish building the town market.
I load the last dish into the dishwasher and wipe my hands dry. I’ve had the last 20 minutes to tidy the kitchen while my littles ones play. I love listening to them tell stories and use their imaginations through constructive play.
What is Constructive Play Anyway?
Constructive play is organized play with a purpose. One source describes constructive play as “as any activity in which children build and make things, constructing larger objects out of smaller ones, and creating something that remains after the child has finished playing.” 1
In the example I just mentioned with my children, their purpose is creating an imaginary world.
They work together to assemble the varied fabric, wood, rubber, and plastic textures of the Wonder Makers™ Build Around Town, Campground, and Recycling Center. The Wonder Makers™ toys are available on Amazon.com – check them out here. As they build and play, they are developing some pretty impressive skills that research shows have significant benefits for children.
Related: The Best Educational Wooden Toys for Toddlers That Will Become Favorites
The Benefits of Constructive Play
Research has shown time and again, the true power of play and the vital role it has on a child’s development. In fact, “Researchers and educators know that these playful activities benefit the development of the whole child across social, cognitive, physical, and emotional domains.” 3
So all this time, while you’ve been providing your little one with time to play, you’ve actually been helping them develop crucial developmental skills. In fact, experts agree that learning through constructive play has the following benefits:
1. Stimulates Imagination and Creativity
Playing with objects allows children the opportunity to use their imagination and creativity. For example, a straight piece of wood from Wonder Makers™ Design System can become a track, cargo, a stick in a fire, the trunk of a tree or a pillar of a building.
Related: Deep Dive into Smart Kids: Why Parents are Reading Educational Books for Toddlers
2. Opportunities for Open-ended Play
Have you ever had the chance to sit down with a child and experience constructive play? If so, you’ve likely seen that children can create endless ways to play with the same set of materials. One day, they are building a town, the next, the same pieces transform into a house. Open-ended play is one of the many benefits children experience with constructive play.
3. Increases Use of Motor Skills
When children have the chance to use toys in constructive play, they can manipulate and build. These actions can lead to an increase in a child’s fine and gross motor skills in addition to providing gains in visual and spatial reasoning.
4. Opportunities for Dramatic Play and Storytelling
One of my favorite benefits of interactive play is the natural correlation with storytelling. I love listening to the narratives my children depict as they create their own world.
“This girl has a traveling tent. Her mom and dad have come to see her in their cars. See, here is her hammock and here is the shower…” My daughter says as she narrates her make-believe world.
5. Hand-eye Coordination
All of those little motions of snapping, clicking, and grasping adds up to make a powerful impact for kids as they are developing hand-eye coordination. “When children reach for, pick up, stack, or fit blocks together, they build strength in their fingers and hands and increase eye-hand coordination. (These skills) help kindergarten and primary grade children develop skills in design, representation, balance, and stability.” 4
Related: 4 Creative Activities for Preschoolers That Will Make You Go “Wow!”
6. Opportunities to Develop Social Skills
“Put that over here,” my daughter says as she pointed to the crane my son was holding from the Lift & Sort Recycling Center. She and my son take turns adding pieces as they construct the design together. Although this interaction may seem simple, they are working on critical social skills of teamwork, collaboration, and social competence.
7. Increases Language and Vocabulary
As a former educator, this particular benefit of play excites me. Children love to craft a narrative for the designs they build. Often, I will catch my children narrating the story out loud as they play.
If you were listening to my children play, you might hear things like, “I’m pulling this crate on the tractor,” or “Look, she’s swinging in the hammock.” This use of language to storytelling increases language and vocabulary skills.
Related: Educational Counting Toy Stacker
8. Creates Feelings of Competence and Self-Confidence
You know that famous saying “practice makes perfect?” Well, as children develop their skills freely within the framework of playing, they can practice essential skills in a carefree environment. This kind of repetitive skill-building creates feelings of self-confidence and competence in children.
9. Problem Solving and Resolution of Conflicts
“Hey! You knocked it over again!” my son says in frustration. Both he and my daughter work to rebuild the trees that tumbled over.
Conflict is often a part of everyday life. It’s even part of playing, especially when playing with others. Constructive play offers opportunities for children to resolve conflicts and use cognitive flexibility to problem solve or negotiate.
10. Improves Math and Science Skills
A design knocks over, and a child rebuilds it. A child attempts to connect two pieces using various materials. A little one estimates how many plants will fit in the wagon.
These engineering skills are the basic building blocks of constructive play and help hone math and science skills.
Allowing children the time, space, and materials to have constructive play has meaningful benefits. Likely, you might already encourage this kind of play in your children. If you plan to purchase toys like Wonder Makers™ Design System, which are designed for preschool-aged children of three and older, there are some easy tips for getting the most from these toys.
Related: How to Pick a Gift Your Child Will Love: The Best Toys for Five-Year-Olds
3 Easy Tips for Getting the Most From Constructive Play Toys
1. Play With Your Kids
This one is pretty simple. It’s as simple as getting on the same level as your child and interacting with them as they play.
2. Combine Constructive Play With Story Time
Pick a story that could relate to the toys you have. Then, read the story and have your child construct something related to the story. This is also a great way to weave in role-playing.
3. Challenge Your Child With Specific Building Tasks
Give your child a specific task or purpose as the play. Here are some examples:
- Build something taller than the day before
- Provide your child with something to build with
- Create a design they’ve never tried before
No matter what, have fun! As psychologist Jean Piaget notes, “Play is the work of childhood.” As parents, educators, or caretakers, we get a fantastic opportunity to encourage and watch these little ones learn and grow.
Now that you know the benefits of constructive play, don’t forget to check out the Wonder Makers™ Design System available on Amazon.com.
- McCleaf Nespeca, Sue. The Importance of Play, Particularly Constructive Play, in Public Library Programming. Association for Library Service to Children. September 10, 2012. Accessed: July 23, 2019. http://www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/FINAL%20Board%20Approved%20White%20Paper%20on%20Play.pdf
- Dewar, Gwen. Toy Blocks (and other Construction Toys): A Guide for the Science-Minded Parent. Parenting Science.com. 2008. Accessed: September 1, 2012. http://www.parentingscience.com/toy-blocks.html
- Koralek, Derry. Ten Things Children Learn From Block Play. National Association for the Education of Young Children. 2015. Accessed: July 23, 2019. https://www.naeyc.org/resources/pubs/yc/mar2015/ten-things-children-learn-block-play
- Block play: Building a child’s mind. National Association for the Education of Young Children. 1997. Accessed July 23, 2019. http://www.kevaplanks.com/benefits-of-blocks-research
- ‘Play is the Work of Childhood,’ but is it Beneficial? The Fessy-Den Blog. October 23, 2015. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://fessyblog.org/play-is-the-work-of-childhood-but-is-it-beneficial-2/
- Cognitive Benefits From Playing With Building Blocks. Gigibloks.com. July 19, 2016. Accessed July 23, 2019. https://www.gigibloks.com/blogs/news/cognitive-benefits-from-playing-with-building-blocks?ls=en&cache=false