Using Imaginary Play for Skill Assessment

Using play dough for imaginary play can be a great way to assess skills your children have mastered.


Post by Contributing Writer Kim of Life Over C’s


We use a lot of play dough in our home both for play and for learning. Because it is summer, I wanted to set up a play dough invitation that’s sole purpose was play. However, as I watched my 7-year-old playing with it, I realized that she was demonstrating her knowledge of the world and concepts that she had observed. Using play dough for imaginary play for skill assessment will show you what your child is currently working on within their own mind.


For this play dough invitation, I gave my daughter a tray (which you can usually find at a dollar store) with a variety of foam stickers that had come together in a pack. Along with some buttons and cookie cutters that we already had.


You don’t have to use these exact materials, but a good variety of sizes, textures and function usually works best.


The only thing that I instructed my daughter to do was play. I find that open-ended and non-directed play is the best way to see what my daughter is thinking about. She doesn’t like to talk about her “real” feelings, so I like watching her express them through play.


For example, she immediately began to make a house. It was very important to her that the doors could open and close. We have just moved back to the U.S. from overseas and a new home goes along with that. She has been very scared about strangers being around our home, so this was a pretty good indication that it is still in the back of her mind.


Using play dough for imaginary play can be a great way to assess skills your children have mastered.


She set up a comfortable bed for her animal, making sure that it was just right. (She got a brand new bed last week…)


Then, she wanted to create a table with chairs for her animal and a friend. One of the things we have always focused on in our home is family meal time. We eat at least one meal a day as a whole family. My husband has been working from home for a few years and that has been an awesome treasure for us.


You can assess your child's level of understanding in social skills by using play dough for imaginary play.


Her older sisters saw how much fun she was having and wanted to play with her, but she was very uncomfortable sharing her small world with them. She told them they should make their own worlds instead of messing with hers. This showed me that she is struggling with finding something that it is “hers” which is very true.


While children playing with play dough or other toys can seem like they are just having a lot of fun, it is actually a window into our children’s hearts and minds.


I remember times when my two oldest daughters would play very roughly and every play scene involved toys getting angry with each other. That was a very quick way for me to see that they were experiencing a very stressful time in their life and they didn’t know how to tell me. (We had just moved overseas at the time.)


Imaginary play can also show us if our children are having too much scripted play. If they only imitate things that we have demonstrated for them or that they have watched on a TV show, it shows that they need some time to explore and imagine on their own.


What skills have you observed through your child’s play today?



kimKim is a work at home mom of four awesome daughters {12, 10, 7 year olds and a special needs 4 year old}. She is wrapping up her 7th year of homeschooling and, before recently returning to the States, lived overseas for 9 years. Kim shares free printables and educational activities over at Life Over C’s


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