I witness the power and elasticity of imagination daily.
The spent glow stick has been part of a necklace, a fishing pole, a fiddle bow sawing at her arm, a drumstick, a straw for her doll's juice, and more.
The magnetic letters that I spent months tracking down are mostly played as "sandwiches" that the little girl stacks and leaves as offerings around the table. Sometimes she serves her animals at the small table. Mister Fish the bath toy and the tiny glow-in-the-dark ducks become "trout pasta" and "spaghetti" when carried in small cups, and she serves them as well.
Her pile of animals and dolls take on new personalities to act out favorite scenarios from familiar stories. Monkey is now called "Moose" and eats food or visits Beaver in his house. At the playground, one area is always "Beaver's house," and another area is always "Mommy's house." Moose, rabbit and squirrel always visit.
Her doll "Dee" frequently falls to the ground like Little Bear's friend's doll, "breaking her arm," Oh! oh! , necessitating "taping" and snuggles. The "tape" may be an empty spool of thread or a hair clip. Whatever can be made to stand in the dramatization of the moment. And the little girl's toys are all actors on that stage, as beloved as any highly-designed-and-crafted plaything.
Following that thought, I'm realizing that highly realistic toys can be quite cleverly done, but they can end up jumping ahead in the creative process by filling in what could be, would be the child's part in the play. You could make an analogous parallel between reading a story in a book and seeing a story in a movie. The brain is not required to fill in the extra sensory details, so it just ... doesn't. Thus those neural pathways don't get as much of a workout.
So why short-circuit the leap of imagination by filling in all the details? Don't we need to leave something creative for her to, well, create? What's the fun in merely filling in the blanks?
My husband thinks that the more abstract the toy the better. He's disappointed that I found a toy camera at the consignment shop. He's afraid that it will push out the hinged-triangle-shape baby teether that has been her "camera" for years. But I'm not sure we could keep her from leaping ahead of the mere reality in front of her. Even the most mundane and boring/exciting objects are pressed into service of the story at hand. This evening she was "serving" chalk sticks to "Moose." It might have been "Birthday soup."
Meanwhile, back amongst the random bits of junk, I mean, toys on my kitchen floor, I realize, yes, those are not really useless items but the raw materials for all sorts of crazy and amazing toddler stories.
I bought her a children's large magnifying glass in the guise of a snake. It's a cool toy, no doubt, but you know what the little girl calls it? A banjo. That's right - my daughter plays at being a musician. The play kitchen spatula is a trumpet - you knew that, right? But the harmonica? That's just a harmonka. Just call her Short Girl Jones. I'll let you know when she goes on tour.