Children who enjoy fantasy play are more likely to be creative and children who are more creative subsequently engage in more fantasy play, says a new study.
"This is because, theoretically, playing in make-believe worlds requires imagination to conceive of the world differently to its current reality, which is also necessary to think creatively," said lead researcher Louise Bunce from the Oxford Brookes University in Britain.
‘Parents should encourage children to engage in fantasy play to develop their creative thinking skills.’
The children's fantasy play involved pretending that mirrored real-life (e.g. having a tea party or pretending to be a teacher), events that were improbable in reality (e.g. fighting a lion and being unharmed or going to school in a helicopter) or impossible events (e.g. going to wizarding school or playing with an elf), the researchers said.
For the study, the team interviewed 70 children aged 4-8 years old to assess the extent to which their fantasy play involved.
The children also completed three creativity tasks. In the first task children had to think of as many things as possible that were red, in the second task they had to demonstrate as many ways as possible of moving across the room from A-B, then the third task asked them to draw a real and pretend person.
In the first two tasks, children received points for the number of responses they gave and how unique those responses were. Their drawings were rated for their level of creativity according to two judges.
Children who reported higher levels of fantasy play also received higher creativity scores across all three tasks.
"The results provide evidence that engaging in play that involves imagining increasingly unrealistic scenarios is associated with thinking more creatively, although at the moment we don't know the direction of this relationship," Bunce noted.
"Parents and teachers could consider encouraging children to engage in fantasy play as one way to develop their creative thinking skills," the researchers suggested.
The findings were presented at the annual conference of the British Psychological Society's Developmental Psychology Section in Belfast.