Imagination develops at about 30 months when toddlers use objects such as toy cars and plastic animals in pretend play. They may cuddle their teddies or dolls that have tears or holes to make them feel better, ‘read’ pictures in books, and imitate the actions of adults and older siblings.
The cerebral cortex is associated with imaginative thinking. The left side visualises and memorises events that have happened, whereas the right side creates something that has not yet occurred. Other parts of the brain such as the amygdala and hippocampus are also involved in creative imagination.
Materials which encourage pretend play include dressing up clothes, small world figures, model farms and garages, play kitchens and plastic tea-sets. A creative area where toddlers can paint, explore water, sand, soil, dough and other materials, will also develop imaginative skills.
Picnics also foster imaginative thinking. Packing things in a lunch box or making a pretend sandwich to eat on the way gives toddlers the opportunity to think beyond the obvious.
Toddlers enjoy books with large, brightly coloured illustrations, textured materials, and hide and-seek pictures, which invite speech and interaction. The properties of a texture can be investigated with their fingertips and the pages can be turned to discover something new. Books encourage toddlers to recognise simple objects and animals. They may be able to repeat the sounds that the animals make or act out the actions.
Books with a repetitive theme such as ‘Walking through the Jungle’ by Debbie Harter and ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt’ by Michel Rosen and Helen Oxenbury will enable toddlers to participate and ask questions. Humorous stories such as ‘Click, Clack, Moo; Cows that type’ by Doreen Corin and Betsy Lewin will stretch their imaginations and help them to appreciate the joy and pleasure that can be found in books.
Some studies have shown that if used in moderation, watching TV or other online virtual programmes can be beneficial. For example, well-designed programmes can build conversations, aid recognition of letter sounds and words, stimulate an interest in reading, and encourage imaginative play around favourite TV characters. However, frequent screen rest-breaks are essential.
Traditional rhyming songs such as Wind the Bobbin Up and Head and Shoulders have delighted children for generations. This is why they are included in the Baby Sensory and Toddler Sense programmes. Also included are rhymes that involve puppets such as Tommy Thumb, which provide a wealth of learning and development opportunities from visual stimulation to imagination and speech development. They also encourage rich adult-child interactions and the element of surprise that babies and toddlers love so much.
All areas of sensory development will be enhanced by the use of safe household objects such as measuring cups, large plastic spoons, textured fabrics, empty boxes, and the contents of the laundry basket. Simple household objects offer babies and children endless opportunities for creative thinking and learning.