Literacy: The power to dream

Written by: Jenni Clarke, early years author and consultant, France
Thursday, January 3, 2019

How to use simple resources such as fabrics, hats and a basket of natural objects to encourage children to experiment and use their imaginations to create characters and dialogue.

Curtains, camera, timer, props, pieces of fabric, hats, a basket of natural resources

Imagination is a cognitive process with in nite possibilities. It is the basis for critical and creative thinking, a vehicle for young children to explore, play with, and understand their experiences. It gives children – and adults – the freedom to do, be, and have anything.

Imaginative play based on stories allows children to become someone or something different, to explore what it is like to be a superhero, a mother, a villain or a victim.

The following activities concentrate on the opportunities imaginative play creates for the exploration of and experimentation with language.

  • Playing and exploring
    Children use their imagination to experience open- ended play.
    While exploring situations, they use objects to represent items from the story.
    Through the adults’ observation and support children initiate ideas and story lines.

Choose one of the children’s favourite stories (the story does not need to be from a book, it could be from a film, cartoon or video game, whatever is important to the children at the time) and place simple resources and prompts linked to it on a rug inside or outside and observe how the children interact and play. Use simple resources such as fabrics, hats, and a basket of natural resources (e.g. r cones, sticks, feather) to encourage the children to use their imagination to recreate characters and objects in the story.

Observe and listen to their understanding of the story, as this will tell you what they are exploring. Join in when appropriate or when invited, and model language and story ideas, but remain true to their direction of play.

Encourage the children to experiment with the story by using open-ended questions, such as ‘I wonder what would happen if ...’ This often creates the opportunity for ideas to become more personal to the children.

Be sensitive to the issues they are exploring in their
play. Observe what aspects of the story the children are expressing and nd more stories that support the themes they are exploring.

When the story changes ask if they want you to scribe their versions and then act them out to others.

Key vocabulary:
Character, swashbuckling, cawing, situation

  • Active learning
    Children are allowed time to explore ideas and their focus is sustained through the introduction of new resources.
    Stories are often played out in a group, so they learn to listen to each other's imaginative play does not have a defined end, therefore the children learn to value the process.

Observe how the play begins close to the original story, but when the children have enough time and encouragement the story changes, showing you what the individual or group of children are trying to make sense of. Be imaginative in where and how you place resources linked to a theme or story to aid the development and deepen the experience.

If the theme is around adventure and pirates, then place resources and books in a treasure chest under the climbing frame or inside a boat-like structure. Hang a pirate ag from a tree and hide resources under a pile of leaves below or make a large X out of sticks in the sand pit and hide the resources in the sand underneath it.

If they are exploring the idea of being lost through animal stories, then place resources in cosy dens or pop-up tents providing a safe and secure atmosphere, hide both parent and baby animals in the setting in animal dens with footprints, string, stones or shells linking them, so that they can nd each other.

Encourage the children to create their own items for playing with the ideas in the stories by providing them with time, simple recycled and natural resources, and the support of imaginative adults.

Add an unrelated resource to spark new ideas, such as a birthday cake in the treasure box, or an egg lled with treasure in an animal den. Observe the children’s reactions and how the play or story changes.

Create opportunities for writing within the play, whether it is a secret coded list of clues to treasure or a map showing the way home. Accept fun and imaginative writing, let them play with the idea of letters and words, maybe writing in Chinese, Spanish or bear language. They may even speak in these languages, encourage this play as well as supporting their exploration of language by providing books and songs in different languages and letters but remember that in imaginative play no one is wrong or right and all writing should be valued.

  • Creating and thinking critically
    Careful questions prompt children to think of new story ideas to explore.
    The adults’ support and use of their imagination help children make connections between their imaginative play and their real lives.The what if ideas encourage children to look for and try out solutions.

Use your adult imagination to look behind the stories the children are fascinated with and encourage the children to think about different aspects to further the exploration and imaginative ideas.

Ask questions. Who built the pirate ships? Who draws
the designs and what is that person’s life like? How do
the animals communicate? What could they make so the characters never get lost? Listen to their ideas and discuss possibilities. Help them to nd out how to build a ship, or how animals communicate, and encourage them to make new stories about theses aspects. Help the children to
create role play areas for the boat builders or invent animal smartphones, creating new languages, maps and clues, boat designs and crazy inventions to improve the characters’ lives.

Make a few ‘what if?’ signs and add these to the resources for the children to use as they play – encouraging them to think of the ‘what if’s’ and the solutions. They and you will fall deeper into using imagination to create and solve situations, while the children learn and understand the world and their own experiences.

If from observations you think the children need to explore the issues further, introduce the idea of mime into their stories. After all, most animals use body language as well
as sounds. What if the pirates touch a cursed treasure and lose their voices? Mime can help young children to express feelings and ideas in a way they are unable to articulate, it develops a more visual imagination and also highlights the ease and usefulness of spoken language.

Writing corner
Set up a small stage area with curtains, a ‘Who am I?’ sign, a two-minute timer and a camera. Encourage the children to choose a character from their play or the initial story. Ensure they have the resources to create a costume and some props. Invite other children to be an audience and pull back the curtain. The child acts out being a character from a story for two minutes, the other children can ask questions to try and guess who they are. Take photos and label with the character’s name and original story for display, this will give other children ideas.

EYFS Early Learning Goals
As the children create environments and props for their imaginative play, they will be demonstrating their mastery of the Physical Development objective: shows control in holding and using jugs to pour, hammers, books and mark-making tools.Imagining other lives and experiences is helping them to understand and to meet the Understanding the World objective: shows interest in different occupations and ways of life.

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