Imaginative play ideas for kids with special needs

Imagination is a powerful tool for children, according to many play specialists, because it helps kids learn how to take on and tackle life’s circumstances. It’s especially important for children work through communication delays by allowing them to speak for or through the stuffed doll, puppet or imaginary figure they become.

Often children with special needs require a concrete or familiar model on which to base their imaginative play. In other words, it might be easier for them to pretend to be the dog next door or the doctor they visit rather than a monster or pirate or characters they are not already familiar with.

Let’s take a look at what an imaginative day of play might look like.

Morning session

Nothing helps jump-start a child’s imagination more than costumes, because wearing them provides a perfect platform to transition from reality into an imaginative world. Steal items from your closets, including scarves, belts and hats, or invest in pre-made costumes. Aeromax Toys in Lake Barrington designs kid costumes that last, are adjustable, easy to put on and care for like My lst Career Firefighter for boys or the Junior Garden Fairy for girls.


Start early and get kids involved in creating their own batch of Name Your Own Soup. It’s super-easy, super-healthy and tons of fun. Start with a vegetable- or meat-base broth and add healthy ingredients. But instead of usual suspects-carrots, beans, peas and noodles-let your kids imagine what they are adding. Carrots can morph into lizards and peas into baby toads.

Each time someone adds an ingredient, have them make up a name for it and then make a silly sound as it hits the soup. Encourage children to do plenty of stirring of the pot and their imagination as they cook and come up with a name for their batch of healthy fun.

Afternoon fun

Now it’s time to turn creative and make masks. Ask the kids to draw the face of their favorite character from a book or movie or an animal they love. Bring out the brown paper bags from the grocery store or construction paper and string. Be sure to provide kids with nontoxic, washable paints and child-friendly scissors. Faber-Castell makes a Texture Painting Set that’s fun, plus you can find and rounded-blade, spring-opening scissors that make cutting easy and safe at any retail store.

After masks are made, put on some “creative” music as kids act out their characters. Encourage them to verbalize, burn energy and play the role.

Dinner on board

Invite both fun and imagination to dinner by serving your meal on board a ship. Use chairs from your kitchen or dining room to create an enclosed space and railings of a sailing vessel. Drape blankets or quilts to make the sides. Fill the vessel with your child’s favorite stuffed toys or play objects and take a dinner cruise. Play soft music or get a tape of wave sounds for atmosphere.

You might even offer your child fish for dinner.

For extra brave travelers

Carry the boat theme into the night by letting your child sleep on board. You can use sleeping bags or air mattresses. With imagination, then can become a life raft.

Bedtime snack

Catch the evening snack by fishing off the sides of the boat, using a fishing pole made out of a bendy straw. Stick peanut butter or cream cheese on the bent end for bait and pull fish crackers out of a bowl (the sea). Sing boat songs (“Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) and whale-watch or read a book about them such as The Magic School Bus book, The Wild Whale Watch.

Before you know it, the stars come out and sleep creeps in after a wonderful day of imaginative play.

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