CogniFit's Science blog: Imagination Is Key To Cognitive Development In Children

Imagination Is Key To Cognitive Development In Children

You know about the Tooth Fairy and know who Santa Claus is. You’ve read the books about Winnie the Pooh and Big Bird too. But did you ever stop to think all of these characters could play a major role in the cognitive development of your children? New findings show imagination and fantasy is a key component to how kids develop.

Many view imagination as nothing more than a way for children to have fun and escape from reality. However, child-development experts are beginning to understand the true importance behind those little critters and the land far, far beyond reality.

Imagination is more than necessary for learning about people and events that are not experienced first-hand. Kids in school constantly learn about the Civil War, past presidents and sometimes even God. While all may be more than a myth, it is nothing that we personally experienced. And because of this, we all use our imagination to some degree.

Psychologists have begun focusing on the magical thinking and fantasy lives of children to learn how they distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. The goal is to better understand the cognitive development of children and how big of a role the imaginary side of the brain plays.

There have been studies conducted that found imagination and role play have a key role in helping children understand someone else’s perspective. And other studies have been done to see what the age is where children distinguish between real and fictional entities like Santa and the Tooth Fairy.

The study found that 70% of 3 year-olds believed in Santa Claus, which shot up to 83% by age 5. The decline became apparent by age 7 while only a third believed in Santa Claus by age 9. What this shows is that children can easily be misled by what adults say until they are about 7. They will believe in Santa far longer than they will monsters or dragons.

So what role should parents play when it comes to cognitive development of cognitive skills and fantasy play? Encourage it! If your child has an imaginary friend, parents should encourage their children and ask questions about their new “friend.” If you do not feel comfortable doing so, look for alternative ways to encourage your child’s imaginations like dress-up or reading fiction books.

Fantasy play has been connected with positive attributes like increased creativity and a greater social understanding. So if you see your child talking to an imaginary friend or believing in Santa until 7 or 8, it means their cognitive development is flourishing and they can leverage their brain plasticity.