Building imagination skills leads to a lifetime of creativity. Explore these 8 types of imagination games for toddlers and find the activities that will give your child a creative outlet. Each type of imagination game includes several play-based imaginative activities to use in the classroom or at home.
What are Imagination Games?
Imagination games are play-based activities where children use creativity or make-believe. Generally, imagination games are open-ended (activity does not have a specific outcome) and child-led (child chooses how to use materials and how long to play).
Creative imagination activities might be art, music, building, storytelling, exploring, or problem-solving games.
Make-believe games (also known as pretend play or dramatic play) includes superhero play, dress-up, “playing house,” or playing with action figures or dolls.
Some imagination games require toys and supplies, but some are pure imagination.
Imagination Games for Toddlers
1. Process Art (not crafts)
Learn about the benefits of process art vs. product art.
- Dry Erase Markers on Window
- Finger Painting
- Water Colors
- Sidewalk Chalk
- Foam Stickers
- Ice Painting
2. Block Play
- Wooden Blocks
- Tree Blocks
- Interlocking Blocks like Duplos, MegaBlocks, or Bristle Blocks
- Cars, Construction Vehicles, and Trains
- Toy Animals
- Action figures
- Dramatic Play
- Baby dolls
- Toy Tools
- Being an Animal
- Dress Up
- Blanket Forts
- Cardboard Box House
4. Telling Stories
- Re-tell stories from favorite classic books
- Tell stories about your family and loved ones
- Act out stories with stuffed animals
5. Loose Parts
Open-ended objects that children use and explore in whatever ways they are inspired to.
- Store-Bought Manipulatives
- MagnaTiles, Magnetic Balls and Rods, Links, Loose Parts Sets
- Stones, Shells, Sticks, Pinecones, Acorns
- DIY Loose Parts
- Scarves, Wooden Rings, Wooden Balls, Cardboard Boxes
- Household Items (get my free list of at-home loose parts inspiration)
Loose Parts Resource Material List
(These games require more adult direction, but still encourage creativity.)
- Find the Toy
- Hide toys as easy or as hard as appropriate for your toddler. You want it to be a little challenging but fun.
- Take turns! Your child will get creative searching for a good hiding spot.
- Act out a familiar animal, an emotion, a familiar character, or a loved one
- The Floor is Lava
- Scarf Dancing
- Pot and Pan Musical Band
- Act Out a Song
7. Sensory Play
When toddlers do messy play, they get to explore and experiment. By scooping, pouring, and squishing, toddlers can creatively explore cause and effect. To boost imaginative play, you can add cars, animals, or small dolls to the sand, water, or slime.
8. Playing Outside
Plants, animals, weather, and even the terrain can all inspire a child’s imagination. Taking any of the previous activities outdoors can create a whole new element to imaginative play. Familiar toys can be explored in whole new ways outdoors. Balls roll farther. Bubbles go higher. Action figures can zoom down slides.
Nature walks, watching clouds, splashing in puddles, and climbing all give toddlers a chance to imagine what their bodies and the world around them can do. Outdoor play also promotes emotional regulation, instills a love of nature, and promotes physical development.
What Do Children Learn by Using Imagination?
- Self-identity. When toddlers role play, it actually helps them learn more about themselves.
- Empathy. Through role play, toddlers begin to understand other people’s experiences.
- Social skills. Imagination games are an opportunity to practice language, communication, and cooperation.
- Cognitive skills. Toddlers can practice skills in problem solving, cause and effect, attention, and motivation.
- Open-ended, child-led imagination games let toddlers tap into their unique developmental schedule. They can follow their own instincts, build skills at their own pace, and pursue their own interests.
100+ Ice Play Activities for Toddlers
How to Promote a Toddler’s Imaginative Play
Play and exploration are instinctual for toddlers. Still, adults always have an important role in deepening imaginative play.
- Create long blocks of time for unstructured play.
- Use Open-ended Questions.
- “What other dances moves could we do?”
- Focus on open-ended activities over screen time or close-ended activities (jigsaw puzzles or worksheets).
- Explore low-cost open-ended toys at ImWithHolly.com.
- Learn your toddler’s strengths and interests. Use that information to extend imagination games.
- A toddler who adores cats might want to add a cat figure to the sensory table, pretend to be a cat, or paint with the colors of their favorite cat.
- A toddler with great fine motor skills could switch MegaBlocks out for Duplos.
Imagination Games and Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Children with autism spectrum disorder can still engage in pretend play and imagination games, but caregivers may need to intentionally build these play skills. Caregivers can model play skills, use positive reinforcement, and create imagination games based on a child’s interests. Like any child, a child with ASD is more likely to participate in an activity that is fun and meaningful to them.