When your toddler is about 18 months old, you’ll notice a big change in the way they play. Symbolic (pretend) play emerges as they begin to use their imaginations rather than simply imitating what they see.
Big brain changes lead to the shift towards imaginative play. Toddlers certainly get a cognitive workout when pretending, and it’s essential for their budding social skills, too. But symbolic play is also uniquely supportive to motor development, because it involves little ones using their bodies in brand-new ways.
How Imaginative Play Influences Motor Skills
Giving little ones lots of opportunities to use their imagination is easy to do with the simplest toys, books, and household items. They can transform these things into whatever they want them to be! But toddlers can also harness the power of their own bodies through pretend play, which strengthens skills like these:
Pushing a small chair across the floor like a vacuum, crawling like a spider, acting like a fitness instructor… During pretend play toddlers use their bodies in ways they might not during other types of play. There are virtually endless opportunities to use their hands, feet, arms, and legs in new ways.
Gross motor skills get an extra boost when little ones engage in active play that involves jumping, running, balancing, etc. Pretend games like our BabySparks activities Animal Races, Jumping Like Kangaroos, and Playing Soldier all harness the power of imagination to encourage gross motor skills.
Have you seen your toddler pick up a block and use it as a phone? Or use markers as “shovels” for digging in the dirt? When they use objects in unintended ways, they’re also using their hands and fingers in new ways, strengthening the fine motor skills they need for countless learning and self-care tasks.
And speaking of self-care, once toddlers become interested in dressing up, they get lots of practice dressing and undressing as they transform themselves into pretend characters!
Imaginative play is a motivating way for little ones to get their eyes working along with other parts of their body: Banging on pot-and-pan “drums,” hitting a nail with a hammer from a toy tool set… those are visual motor skills at work! Visual motor skills are essential for hand-eye coordination, foot-eye coordination, visual memory, spatial awareness, and more! They play a big role in tasks like self-feeding, hitting a target, and eventually writing.
Whether you’re doing a BabySparks pretend play activity, following your child’s lead they serve you a toy-food meal, or giving them solo time to push a block “car” around the house, notice all of the exciting and unique ways they use their bodies, hands, and eyes during imaginative play!