Though many parents and caregivers recognize their children beginning to start “pretend play,” many don't realize the importance of this type of play when it comes to a child’s development. According to studies, when children participate in pretend play with their friends/classmates, they practice representational thinking, which is the same kind of thinking that's necessary for early literacy. Pretend play, also known as believe play, fantasy play, creative play and many more, is a healthy type of play that parents should encourage.
What is Pretend Play?
Pretend play is a specific form of play where children use objects, actions or ideas to represent other objects, actions or ideas — thereby “pretending,” as the name suggests. It involves using their imagination skills and lots of creative thinking.
During pretend play, kids act out sophisticated narratives and they use a mix of objects, actions and language together in narrative sequences. They also use language that's outside of their day-to-day vocabulary while meaningfully acting out different roles and perspectives.
The Stages of Pretend Play
Most children begin to pretend to play between 11 and 18 months, with it's not most noticeable to parents until around the age of four. Pretend play usually continues until around age 10. Though these are general guidelines, every child is different and may progress through different stages at a different rate.
Noticing your child beginning to start to pretend play may not be blatantly obvious at first. This is because there are several stages within pretend play as a child develops. First, a child may not actually be pretending but is beginning to show knowledge that they are learning the difference between something that is real and something that is not. For example, this might include imitating the actions or behaviors of someone else.
Next, your child may begin to show more signs of pretending but only limited to themselves. One real-life example of this is if a child pretends to take a sip of their drink, making noises to show they’re drinking, even if they’re not. Following this stage, children will progress to involve others in their pretend play.
As your child progresses through the stages, they may start to have more of a sequence to their pretend play. For example, they may do things in a logical order, such as pretending to wash a play apple before they eat it. The last stage of pretend play is known as planned pretend play, where kids begin to gather pretend props for their play. This stage shows your children are intentional about their pretend play.
Reasons To Encourage Pretend Play
Although you may now recognize what pretend play is, you might still be wondering 'why is it so important?' Encouraging pretend play has several benefits, which include:
- Encourages your child to cooperate and resolve conflicts with others. For example, perhaps your child is playing with another child and they are in disagreement over who wants to pretend to be a superhero and who has to be the villain. Children begin to learn the concept of taking turns and resolving conflicts this way.
- Encourages positive reflection and social relationships, while also encouraging children to interact with others, as well as the world around them. They will begin to interact with imaginary friends, helping solve problems and learning interpersonal skills.
- Allows children to express their creative side — the possibilities are endless for the types of pretend play they will create.
- Encourages social-emotional development, as children can take on other “characters” perspectives and begin to learn feelings of empathy.
- Helps build your child’s vocabulary, as they may become exposed to new words that would not be brought up in day-to-day conversations, such as words like fairy or sword.
Toys, Games and Activities That Can Help With Pretend Play
If you're excited for your little ones to start reaping the benefits of pretend play, there are some great toys, games and activities out there that can help, including:
- Toy kitchens, cars, lawnmowers and other devices that mimic and encourage daily household chores, tasks and jobs.
- Dolls and stuffed animals are often used by kids as they play house and mimic how their parents care for them.
- Easy Bake Ovens, chemistry kits and other activities that give kids hands-on lessons at being an adult by having them cook, do science experiments, etc.
- Dress-up clothes are amazing facilitators of pretend play and help kids visualize their imaginary worlds. From firefighter and police costumes to chef costumes, princess, professional athlete and much more, whatever your child wants to dress up as, there's an option available.
Impact of Creative and Play-Based Learning on Kids
Research shows that play-based learning can be more effective than traditional direct-learning approaches, as children are more relaxed and engaged when they become more in control of their own activities. Letting your child lead and involve themselves in pretend and play-based learning can help encourage positive development.
This study from Miami University is one of many that suggest connections between cognitive development and high-quality pretend play. Without these opportunities, children may experience delays or long-term problems associated with their social cognition, problem-solving and other important skills.
Letting the Child Lead: What That Can Look Like for the Future
As you can tell by now, it's important to allow your child to naturally develop play skills by experiencing the world around them. Imaginative play in young learners can be encouraged by parents through a variety of means. Some examples include letting your kids play alone or with their friends, without you present.
Let your child lead and figure out what to play and encourage them to use their toys and items in new, creative ways. This will be great for your child’s development.
Looking for more ways to help encourage your child’s learning and development? Outschool encourages and inspires learning through a wide range of interactive, online classes on various subjects that kids are most interested in. Even better, the small-group format of Outschools’ online classes encourages positive social interaction and helps your child nurture their love of learning.
For more on enrichment and to learn more on creative play, check out these Outschool classes.