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Need that explained? Welcome to the Rose & Rex glossary. Here are some common terms associated with imaginary play that we happily use, but might be new to you.

Imaginary Play: Also known as “open-ended play”, this is an umbrella term for all make-believe, fantasy and pretending—any play that stems from a child’s imagination. When children explore the contents of their imagination, they make sense of their observed world, draw meaning, explore their feelings and develop multi-perspective awareness.

Dramatic Play:  A style of imaginary play that includes taking on pretend roles and acting out imaginary experiences to develop social skills, explore emotions in a safe environment and learn coping skills. Recreating the roles present in their lives, such as family, is a natural interest for children (especially at four years old!). Dramatic play promotes social development: in order for a group of children to enact the same imaginative scenario, they must learn to negotiate boundaries, communicate and collaborate.

Results-Driven Play: This one’s just like it sounds—play that uses directive toys and focuses on results, solutions or expectations such as puzzles, board games or organized sports. Basically, the opposite of imaginary play, which is without agenda.

Sensory Play:  Play that uses materials (play dough, sand, water) to engage a child’s senses. By working with materials, mathematical and scientific thinking are organically fostered as children learn to make hypothesis, measure, mix and see the results of those interactions. Often, sensory play inspires a narrative spin-off and leads to dramatic play—even more fun!

Directive Toy: A toy with a single, specific purpose or goal (read: “press this button and a song will play”). Sure, it’s entertaining for awhile but limits how far play can be stretched, which doesn’t support complex cognitive development, like reasoning, flexibility or problem-solving.

Open-Ended Toy/Material: For us, it means any material or object that can be transformed, that comes to life in a child’s hands. From fabric scraps to cardboard, sticks and rocks to building blocks, open-ended toys can be explored, personalized and manipulated. A block shaped and painted like a tree is more likely to be played with as a tree, but a plain wooden block can be anything. These toys bring the child into their play experience in deep, profound ways.

Imaginary play can help foster the following skills:

Collaboration: The ability to work with others. When ideas from multiple people converge to influence a project or task, collaboration requires receptive and expressive language skills. Simply put, a child’s ability to listen to others’ thoughts and share his or her own.

Communication: The ability to share and receive ideas and engage in a dialogue.

Coordination: The development of large muscles that allow for whole-body movement in a balanced and controlled way. Activities that require gross motor coordination include: walking, running, jumping, swimming and dancing.

Empathy: The all-important ability to feel and see an experience from another being’s (a human or animal) perspective.

Fine motor: The development and coordination of small muscles—usually hands, fingers, eyes, feet—that allow for small actions, such as holding a pencil, using utensils and writing.

Ingenuity: Creative, inventive and innovative thinking that sees expanded possibilities.

Literacy: Reading, writing and storytelling abilities — hooray!

Organization: The ability to keep track of and make sense of ideas, information and physical objects.

Planning: The ability to both think ahead and devise a strategy to achieve one’s goal. For example, setting up the materials you will need before beginning a craft project.

Problem Solving: An essential executive functioning task, problem solving is connected to perseverance, or a willingness to try multiple solutions until the desired outcome is achieved. A common play-and-learn moment is when a child tries to balance blocks that keep falling—by trying over and over, they foster their tenacity and abilities to devise new strategies.