New U.K. research from has found that make-believe fantasy play could boost children's creative thinking.

Carried out by researchers from Oxford Brookes University, the team presented their findings at the British Psychological Society's Developmental Psychology Section annual conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Using interviews, the team assessed the play of 70 children aged 4-8 years old, and to what extent their play involved the following make-believe situations:

  • pretending in a way that mirrored real-life (e.g., having a tea party or pretending to be a teacher);
  • pretending in a way that involved events that were improbable in reality (e.g., fighting a lion and being unharmed or going to school in a helicopter); or
  • pretending in a way that involved impossible events (e.g., going to wizarding school or playing with an elf).

The children were also asked to complete three creativity tasks.

In the first task, the children had to think of as many things as possible that were red, in the second task they had to think of as many ways as possible of moving across the room from A-B, and in the third task they had to draw both a real and a pretend person.

The team's analysis of the play and the tasks revealed that children whose play involved higher levels of fantasy also received higher creativity scores across all three tasks, however creativity was found to be stronger on the first two tasks rather than the third drawing task.

Lead researcher Dr Louise Bunce commented on the results saying that although fantasy play is linked with higher levels of creativity, the team do not yet know the direction of this relationship -- children who engage in more fantasy play may already be more creative, or higher levels of fantasy play may result in higher levels of creativity. However she concluded that, "None the less, these results provide encouraging evidence for parents and teachers who could consider encouraging children to engage in fantasy play as one way to develop their creative thinking skills."

Meanwhile a 2014 study out of Michigan State University in the US found that outdoor play could also stimulate creativity. The small study of 10 children found that those who spent five to 10 hours a week playing outdoors showed strong imaginations, creativity, and curiosity, as well as a deeper appreciation for nature. In addition the team also found that the children were also more peaceful, thoughtful, and expressed feelings of happiness, while research out of Canada's UBC in 2015 found a similar positive impact of outdoor play on creativity, and social development.