Imaginative Play and Justice

August 26, 2014

Even though children may not even know what the words mean, as they grow they will need to learn about social concepts like justice, fair play, equality, beauty, prejudice, tolerance, forgiveness, empathy, mercy, gratitude and desire.

Justice means a concern for peace and genuine respect for people. Prejudice is about matching preconceived ideas with reality and experience. In imaginative play children get opportunities to try different roles, circumstances, and scenarios to explore social concepts. Can a boy be a fairy princess? Can a girl be a pirate? Children have to work out their strategies for themselves, perhaps finding that what they thought was right wasn’t right after all.

It may turn out that the girls build the best pillow fort or have the best spider-web defense system. Or it may be that the boys draw the best tapestries for the castle. Some characters, ogres, trolls, and giants for example, typically get bad press. Children may cast these oppressed differently in their stories. In any case, imaginative play allows children to live out experiences that they would not otherwise have. Experiences they have created, orchestrated and developed.

As children interact in play, they get opportunities to be someone who they are not. It is unlikely your child will ever be a race car driver, big game hunter, or a fireman. Through pretend play, children get the opportunities to see and explore things from a different point of view. How are they treated when the big game hunter accidentally shoots the unicorn?

Two-girls-with-hats-and-balloons-MP900431190Play allows for more common roles like mom, dad, teacher, pet. When children take on roles in play and have to interact with other pretenders complex and unreal situations can be explored and worked through. In reality we don’t get to drive recklessly, eat candy as our main food for every meal or have 101 Dalmatians for pets.

Often when children are playing they will take turns playing the different parts of the same play, “Now you be the monster”. As roles shift from person to person the players are naturally empathetic toward each other. If I was the monster a minute ago then I can imagine how you must feel being the monster now. I may change my character accordingly.


Imaginative play allows children to try on different hats, assume responsibilities, and be people and things they will likely never be in real life. These opportunities are tailor made for kids, and parents, to explore complex social concepts.