When a child is young, they’re truly wrapped up in a world of their own. Pretend play assists development like nothing else, allowing young brains to stretch and grow.
Children live in a world of princesses and dragons, good and evil, where they learn to run and jump with the fairies and fight and kill the monsters in their closets – all before bedtime. It’s this magic of make believe that helps make imagination truly possible, and that helps their growing brain cells develop a sense of the difference between fantasy and reality.
They learn that Mama can be an evil witch in a story one minute, and become their kind, loving mother tucking them into bed the next.
This important psychological distinction will carry them through some of the most important emotional moments of their lives, helping them to ground a basis in reality when they need it most. The magic of make believe can help them tell stories to get through tough times as they are adults with their own children, but it can also help them work through dialogue and process trauma.
As humans grow, make believe truly is magic, and the imagination has a power that’s never truly been measured in a laboratory.
What Is Pretend Play?
Pretend play is when smaller children practice open ended-play based on scenarios that they develop inside their heads.
Often the play is interactive with other kids, although sometimes it may be individual. Pretend play goes by many names, including imaginative play, fantasy play, and dramatic play. It’s also widely represented in children’s literature and TV shows geared towards kids.
There may or may not be rules or structure to the play, and props can be used, but may not always be necessary. Children may act out family scenarios, or use pretend play to work out conflicts that they’ve experienced throughout the day.
They may also use the play to imitate scenes that they see on a daily basis, such as housekeeping, cooking, and cleaning.
Pretend play can take place indoors or outdoors and it’s not uncommon for younger children to devote their entire day to complex imaginary scenarios.
The Importance of Pretend Play
Pretend play is extremely important and plays a big role in younger kids developing a broad range of skills.
They learn social skills as they play with others and they learn how to share. They also learn to choose roles in the situations that they’re acting out and to take turns playing the important roles.
For example, it’s important to understand that one child cannot always be king and that that different roles must be shared throughout the day.
Children also learn to manage emotional interactions because as they play, it’s almost a definite that someone’s feelings will be hurt or that someone will become angry. Adults can assist in navigating these big feelings, but often other children can help as well.
In addition, children who play imaginative games together may find that their vocabularies and language skills develop and their self-esteem and confidence grow.
They’ll learn to ask to play whatever role in the game that they’d prefer, in any given imaginary setting. They’ll also learn assertiveness as they defend their choices while playing the game. And they’ll learn how important it is to be kind and to help others who are hurt or angry or feeling down.
Pretend play teaches emotional intelligence in a way that many organized games cannot.
How To Nurture And Encourage Pretend Play
Simple items like costumes, small sticks, pine cones, puppets, or other open-ended items can be a wonderful way to encourage your children to imagine how they might be used.
You might consider putting on a soundtrack, such as playing ocean waves or the sounds of a city or a busy railway station.
Soon, you’ll find that your children are off and running, using their own imaginations to create a fun scenario with only occasional input from you.
The list for fun scenarios is endless but some ideas are:
- A fairy tale kingdom
- A busy market
- A pirate ship
- Vet clinic
- Superheroes dress up and play
- Playing detective
- A fairy forest
- A city
- An under the sea mermaid dance
It’s easier than you think to nurture pretend play with your children and the benefits are many, including increased intellectual development, creativity and social development.
By simply providing them with a few open ended props and a bit of encouragement, you’ll be able to witness the magic they’re able to create with the beauty of their imaginative minds. You may be quite surprised at the beauty and joy that erupts!