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Unleash Your Child’s Imagination: Play Ideas for Summer Holidays

Summer holidays are the perfect blank canvas for your child’s imagination

When school’s out for summer, children have a unique opportunity to explore their imagination and creativity. With lots of free time and a break from school routines, the long holiday becomes a blank canvas for children to unleash their imagination and go on exciting adventures.

Without academic pressures, routines, homework, and tests, the summer holidays offer much-needed rest for children and a time for them to explore their interests and imagination in an unstructured way. The more pleasant weather at this time of year encourages play and activities outdoors. Gardens, parks, woods and beaches become the setting for children’s adventures, with the sights, sounds, textures, smells and even tastes of nature enriching their play experiences.

As imaginative play can often develop over time, the long holiday is an ideal time for children to embark on an imaginative ‘project’, so dens in the corner of the living room, or forts and obstacle courses in the garden can be constructed gradually and added to over time as elaborate imaginary worlds take shape (if you can bear not to tidy them away). The long break also provides ample opportunities for children to enjoy playdates or holiday camps with their peers. These interactions enhance their social skills and also add to children’s imaginative play as they exchange ideas, cooperate to solve problems and create storylines together.


Children walking on a plank outdoors


So how can parents help to nurture their child’s imagination? Here are some tips…


Provide open-ended materials

Open-ended materials are items that can be used in various ways, allowing children to explore, manipulate and transform them in different ways. Materials such as cardboard boxes, dressing-up costumes, art supplies, loose parts such as buttons, beads, ribbons, and natural objects like sticks, shells and rocks are great materials for children to build structures, create characters, tell stories and design imaginary worlds. They encourage children to think outside the box, experiment with different combinations and adapt their play as they go along. Avoid giving specific instructions or plans to follow as this will limit exploration instead of igniting their creativity.

Recommended Play Idea: Build a Cardboard Castle


Encourage pretend play

Child pretend play as shopkeeper


Get involved with the pretend play, but allow your child to take the lead. Observe their ideas and join in, supporting their storylines and characters. By allowing them to be in control, you are empowering your child, and collaborative play will also strengthen your bond. Ask open-ended questions, such as “What do you think will happen next?” or “How would your character solve this problem?” This will encourage critical and imaginative thinking. Asking your child to describe their play scenarios and encouraging them to create a beginning, middle and end to their ‘stories’ will also support their language development and storytelling skills.

Recommended Play Idea:  Pretend Shopkeeper



Storytelling is a great way to spark your child’s imagination. Reading books together is extremely valuable, but it’s also important to tell your own invented stories to your child. Let them see that you can make it up as you go along, and that imagination can take you anywhere; it’s full of twists, turns and surprises! A fun storytelling activity is to take turns telling a story together. Let your child come up with the theme of the story, the opening line or make up the ending. Inventing stories or acting them out together not only fuels children’s imaginations but also helps to strengthen your bond with them.



Being bored is good!

Child thinking on the sofa


Children who are allowed to get bored are forced to use their imagination in order to find their own entertainment. It’s important for parents to play with their children, but it is also beneficial for them to not be constantly entertained. Being bored allows children to explore ideas, let their thoughts and imagination roam, and think creatively.
So hold your nerve when your child complains about being bored because it shows them that it isn’t the end of the world, they can work through it, rely on themself, and become more resilient.


Turn off the screen

It’s tempting for busy parents to use a device as a babysitter sometimes, and while some screen time is ok, it generally isn’t great for nurturing your child’s imagination. Screen time is usually a passive activity, and when children are engaged in passive activities such as watching television they are taking in other people’s images and ideas instead of coming up with their own. Think of imagination as a muscle; if it’s not used it will weaken. Creative activities, playing outside, or reading a book will do so much more for your child’s imagination and creativity than long periods of screen time.


Get outside

Children playing with water outdoors


Nature inspires and expands our imaginations, and outdoor free play is great for your child’s creativity while also providing many social, emotional and cognitive benefits. Lie on your back and watch the fluffy clouds float by, asking your child what shapes they see, or when it’s dark, look up into the night sky at the moon and stars. Sit and listen to the waves at the seaside, or put a shell to their ear and ask if they can hear the sea. Climb trees that transform into magical castles. Show your child all the different things a stick can be – a pirate’s sword, a spoon to stir mud pies, the start of a frame for a den. The possibilities are endless.

Recommended Play Idea: Nature Scavenger Hunt


Worry less about the mess

Children are messy and noisy. For their imaginations to thrive they need to mix the playdough colours together, spill the glitter everywhere, pull the cushions off the sofa, and colour outside the lines. If you can help it, try not to hover in the background with the vacuum cleaner and the disinfectant while their creative juices are flowing or they are in the middle of fighting a dragon!

Recommended Play Idea: Homemade Playdough