Still reeling from your child's rejection of those well-researched Christmas presents?

Well, you're not alone. Nationwide, there are parents calculating the cost per hour of the limited interest shown by their children in hyped-up pogo sticks, newfangled scooters and myriad toys plastered with Harry Potter labels.

Short-lived excitement aside, did they get anything out of it at all? What about the wrapping paper and boxes?

Younger children approach everyday items with an open-minded and complex range of responses.

You might only see box fit for the dustbin but that can prove a real challenge for a toddler trying to climb inside to hide, while an older child might see further scope for a play house.

All nurseries and playgroups staffed by trained professionals know this only too well. They recognise the effectiveness of role play, using throwaway items to develop the imagination, social skills and language.

For what is the point of role play unless it involves children playing together, sharing roles, discussing their approach then assuming the language of their protagonists?

Indeed, so well established is role play as a learning tool that creative development is one of the early learning goals children are encouraged to work towards while at nursery or playgroup and in reception class.

And your nursery's effectiveness in developing children's imaginations through play is assessed along with the other five early-learning goals by Ofsted inspectors specialising in early education.

But to return to the topic of crumpled cardboard boxes, if you visit your child's nursery on a day when group role play is planned, you will pick up a few tips for making full use of cheap and cheerful materials.

For, tempting as it might be for a parent just to let their child get on with it, skilled intervention in role play by an adult can extend the activity and make it even more rewarding.

The way of the nursery nurse is to use a storybook with pictures to stimulate the children's imagination and provide ideas for acting it out with props. It could be a Thomas the Tank Engine story.

It might be one about pirates. Once he or she has captured the child's imagination, this can prompt a range of simple craft activities to make the extra props needed to turn your cardboard box into a rowing boat with oars, a railway station booking office or even a car wash.

And very often, everything you need will be at hand: some lengths of wood, rectangles of card, felt tip pens, Velcro stickers, perhaps some paper plates from the Christmas party.

Using these as a starting point, you and your child can enjoy a wide range of activities to expand their understanding and imagination.

As early education author, Marjorie Ouvry, explains in her book, Exercising Muscles and Minds, it is active, energetic and imaginative play that is most effective in exercising and developing the mind as well as the body.